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Western Press Review: Authorities Flaunt Democracy In Turkey As In Algeria

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 19 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press Commentaries today and over the weekend touch on a variety of subjects. They range from the Turkish supreme court's decision Friday to ban the Islamic Welfare Party, through the European Union's mission to Algeria to try to stop the Islamic fundamentalist massacres there, to reviews of the recently published last book of the late George Urban, a former director of Radio Free Europe.

NEW YORK TIMES: Turkey is wounding its democracy

In an editorial Saturday (Jan.17) entitled "Turkey's Politics of Exclusion," The New York Times strongly criticizes the Turkish court's decision to keep the Welfare Party out of political life. The paper writes: "Turkey's military and political leaders seem under the illusion that the best defense against Islamic fundamentalism is to ban Islamic political parties. The Turkish supreme court did so again Friday, outlawing the Islamic (Welfare) Party that briefly governed Turkey before the military arranged its removal last year. Like previous bans on Islamic parties, this one will only stir greater support for Islamic causes among Turkey's overwhelmingly Muslim population."

The editorial continues: "This time the Welfare Party, which won the largest number of seats in the last parliamentary election, was declared a threat to the survival of Turkey's secular state. Its top leaders, including former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, were banned from political activity for five years. A new Islamic party, Virtues, will replace it, though it may initially lack the grass-roots network and computerized operations that made Welfare the largest, most effective political organization in Turkey."

The New York Times concludes: "Turkey, already estranged from Europe and seeking closer ties with the United States, has not helped itself with this decision. It is yet another sign, along with the arbitrary arrest of dissidents and journalists and a scorched-earth policy against Kurdish separatists, that Turkey is wounding its democracy."

NEW YORK TIMES: The ban on Welfare has not seriously weakened their movement

A news analysis published the same day by The New York Times' Istanbul corespondent, Stephen Kinzler, says that "with the long-awaited verdict now delivered, Turks are wondering what comes next. Six million people voted for Welfare in last election, and many of its leader have considerable popularity. They will certainly not fade away."

Kinzler quotes Turkish commentator Ismet Kirkan, who wrote Saturday" Our domestic politics will now begin to shake quite seriously. It is hard to predict where this shaking will lead." Kinzler also cites another prominent columnist, Mehmet Ali Birand, who wrote: "We closed a party, but did not erase its millions of supporters because that is not possible. All we accomplished was to show that Turkish democracy is not on track." Finally, Kinzler cites reactions among Welfare supporters themselves, writing: "Commentators who have supported Islamic politics insisted Saturday that the ban on Welfare had not seriously weakened their movement and might even have strengthened it. "Judges condemned Galileo," said the essayist Abdul Rahman Dilipak, "but the world continued to turn."

REUTERS: The Turkish authorities have committed the same mistake as the Algerian government

According to a dispatch yesterday by the Reuters news agency from Cairo, mid-Eastern press reaction to the Turkish court's decision has been largely hostile: The agency writes: "Newspapers in the (Middle East) region denounce the a blow to democracy which would not eliminate the threat the (Welfare) party represents." Reuters cites Egyptian opposition daily Al-Wafd as saying: "The Turkish authorities have committed the same mistake as the Algerian government when it canceled at the stroke of a pen the results of a 1992 election that the Islamic Salvation Front was winning." The same paper, according the agency's report, said "the ruling had struck at political pluralism and the will of those who voted for Welfare in a free election."

The same summary of press reaction says that the English-language Iran Daily, published in a country led by Islamic clerics, wrote: "The recent move by the Turkish army, which is a blatant violation of Turkish citizens' human rights, clearly proves Europe's claims that there is no democracy in Turkey....Ankara should know that by declaring the Welfare Party illegal, it has harmed the country 's image and has brought into question the political authenticity of the Turkish system."

The Reuters dispatch also quotes a Saudi Arabian journal, al-Billed, which Reuters say wrote: "Islam will remain in Turkey despite the dismantling of Welfare....."The Turkish army saw Islamists as a threat to secularism Ankara sees as its best bet to assert a Western identity."

A high-level EU fact-finding mission is due to arrive in Algiers today following a recent spate of massacres, probably involving Islamic fundamentalist terrorists --and possibly the military-backed government-- in the North African nation. Western press commentary is not optimistic about the mission's success.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: A slight gleam of hope shone this week on the EU

In a new analysis in the Frankfurter Rundschau late last week (Jan. 19), corespondent Axel Veiel wrote: "A slight gleam of hope shone this week on the EU. More precisely, it shone on EU politicians who were bargaining with the government in Algiers over details of what they might say and not say during their planned foreign visit...The Algerian leaders made one thing clear from the beginning: no embarrassing questions should be put." The analysis continues: "For the Algerian, embarrassing means all inquiries about possible lapses --if not involvement-- by security forces in the butchery. The killings, of course, are being blamed entirely on armed Islamic groups. Embarrassing also means asking how it is that Algeria with supplies of oil and gas is doing well while its people are so badly protected....But raising these issues," the commentary concludes, "would only touch upon the issue of power in a country in which the army has a lot to say and the opposition very little."

REUTERS: Algeria has rejected any attempts to interfere in its internal affairs

A Reuters news analysis from Algiers written by reporter Nadim Ladki says the "Algerian Government will take a tough stand in talks with the European Union delegations arriving Monday, focusing on way to confront 'terrorism' and repeating its demand that European countries crack down on Moslem militants." The analysis goes on to say: "Algeria, rocked by massacres since the Moslem month of Ramadan started on December 30, agreed to the EU mission in a rare display of willingness to discuss the bloodshed a the international level. But it has rejected any attempts to interfere in its internal affairs and any inquiry into the massacres which it blames, like the rest of the violence during its six-year-long conflict, on Moslem rebels."

Two British Sunday newspapers, the Times and the Telegraph, favorably review the last book of George Urban, a former Radio Free Europe director, who died three months ago at the age of 76. Urban's final book, entitled "Radio Free Europe and the Pursuit of Democracy: My war within the Cold War," was published in recent weeks both in the U.S. and Britain. Hungarian-born Urban was a citizen of both countries.

TIMES: The book throws interesting light on the resourceful and ferocious war of words

The Sunday Times reviewer, Ian McIintyre says that the book is "an autobiographical memoir rather than a history of (RFE), but it throws interesting light on the resourceful and ferocious war of words which (the station) waged against the Soviet system for almost four decades...It is also a sober reminder of how often the harnessing of emigre effort, to say short of political enterprise, threatens to convert into 'Mission Impossible." McIntyre goes on to say: "Some of the station's problems were (according to Urban) insoluble. German labor laws...made it virtually impossible to cut out dead wood --RFE lost a whole series of lawsuits for wrongful dismissal (Urban says). It wasn't even particularly easy to get rid of spies."

The review continues: "The American 'East Cost Intelligentsia' comes in for especially vigorous (criticism), and Urban feels that he was fighting on two fronts. He writes of the 'moral neutrality, of often direct hostility, of an opinion-making segment of the American intelligentsia.' "

SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: Urban dedicated his life to the defense of Western values

The Sunday Telegraph's reviewer, Anne Applebaum, pays tribute to George Urban in these words: "Eight years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, its is already difficult to imagine the world which produced men like George Urban. As a writer, broadcaster and finally director of Radio Free Europe, Urban dedicated his life to the defense of Western values in the propaganda battle which was so central to the Cold War.." She continues: "This new book, his last one (is) part autobiography, part analysis (and) is an honest attempt to evaluate the role played by Western broadcasters, himself included, during the Cold War. As Urban sees it, the record is mixed, although ultimately successful."

Applebaum also writes: "What stands out from Urban's account --and this, too, will soon be forgotten-- is how unique Radio Free Europe (which transmitted to Eastern Europe) and Radio Liberty (which transmitted to the Soviet Union) were in the history of broadcasting. Although funded by the United States...the 'radios' were in fact relatively independent, with each separate language service functioning as a free, untrammeled domestic radio station...The impact of the two stations..." she concludes, "was incalculable, and everybody involved in them knew it....But the Cold War was like that: enthusiastic Americans funding the causes of nations which most of them would have been unable to identify on a map." Applebaum concludes: "The sense of gloom which Urban allows to seep into the conclusion of his book is unwarranted. His life's work was achieved...."