Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Commentary Roams The World -- Iraq, Ireland, The Olympics

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 20 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Fred Hiatt in a commentary in The Washington Post today takes U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to task for setting a double standard on respect for democracy abroad.

WASHINGTON POST: In none of these cases will U.S. interests have been served by standing with the despots

He notes that when Albright testified during her confirmation hearing one year ago, she promised then to be guided by the principle that the United States has "no permanent enemies, only permanent principles -- respect for law, human dignity and freedom." Hiatt says, "That, indeed, sounded like a welcome return to a natural American foreign policy, now that the Cold War was over and the United States no longer felt compelled to support dictators who were loathsome but anti-Communist. Yet from Southeast Asia to Africa to the Caucasus, it isn't turning out that way.

"Set aside the arguably more difficult cases, like China, whose dictators this administration is so reluctant to offend that it won't even mobilize support for a moderate UN resolution urging improvement in that nation's human rights record. Forget, too, Saudi Arabia, which is less democratic than Iran but so crucial as a military ally that -- try to follow this now -- the administration won't ask for assistance when it's needed because that might jeopardize the alliance.

"Look, instead, at a country like Armenia, which has no strategic significance to the United States. When its democracy began sliding off the rails, with restrictions on the press and a hijacked election, the United States kept shoveling in aid as though nothing had happened. Look at countries like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, impoverished ex-Soviet republics turning West for investment and guidance. In their early years of independence, promoting democracy there was a key, though never singular, goal of U.S. policy.

"Now U.S. officials seem to care only about stability, helping those nations stand up to Russia and, above all, gaining access to their bountiful oil and gas. Policy makers talk about encouraging 'civil society' and 'rule of law,' but neither can flourish under one-man rule. And yet when those nations' one-man rulers visit Washington, they are received like the royalty they consider themselves, with nary a whisper about honest elections -- just like in Cold War days."

Hiatt writes: "It's not just that slighting democracy is immoral, a betrayal of courageous people in all these countries who are fighting for freedom. It's also dumb. In the long run, the nations of Central Asia and the Caucasus won't be stable if a few despots and oligarchs are permitted to siphon off all the oil money, leaving most people desperately poor. And Indonesia cannot recover and prosper if it does not give its people a voice in running their affairs. In none of these cases will U.S. interests have been served by standing with the despots."

NEW YORK TIMES: Politics adds an extra measure of volatility in the Olympic games

The New York Times, commenting on the Olympic games, said in an editorial today, "In Olympic events where artistry blends with athleticism, and performance cannot be measured in terms of points scored or time elapsed, there will always be an element of subjectivity in the decisions of the judges. Politics adds an extra measure of volatility, especially in ice skating ... Political motivations have been less obvious since the end of the Cold War, but the judging can be as inscrutable as ever."

The Times says: "No event is as maddening as ice dancing, where inertia may be as big an obstacle to fairness as politics. Again, representatives of the old East Bloc dominated the judges' panel, and well before the end of the four-dance competition, television commentators accurately predicted the final standings.

The newspaper says: "In less subjective sports, a single performance can undo a career or catapult an unknown athlete to the top. But the ice dancing judges were content to let the world order of that sport remain undisturbed. Their predictability eliminated the element of risk, and fairness, that separates a good floor show from a tightly matched competition."

IRISH TIMES: The talks, in essence, are an attempt not to solve that conflict but to turn it into less bloody channels

A commentary today by Fintan O'Toole in the Irish Times of Dublin ponders the faltering Ulster peace process but also offers lessons on the need to redefine national identify. He writes: "Before despairing about the current crisis in the peace process and giving up on the IRA, it is worth remembering how hard that process inevitably is. It is an attempt to end a conflict. But conflicts normally end in one of two ways -- victory or compromise. And neither of those endings is available in the story of the last 30 years. Nobody can win. For Unionists, the desired outcome (is) impossible, since the UK is changing whatever they do. For nationalists, the goal of a United Ireland is unreachable because the population of the Republic is not willing to pay the price in terms of economic cost, political instability and possible civil war."

The writer says: "There is no half-way point between a United Kingdom and a United Ireland. There is no way in which the desire for full British sovereignty and the demand for full Irish sovereignty can be simultaneously satisfied. What's on offer, instead, is a range of redefinitions, a set of possible ways to refine the idea of national identity, so that it contains fewer certainties and covers more ambiguities. Or, perhaps more accurately, an act of translation, taking the conflict out of the language of bloodshed and into the language of democratic politics.

"The impossibility of actually ending the conflict is, indeed, tacitly accepted by everyone involved. Nobody believes that Northern Ireland will be, at least in the foreseeable future, anything other than a deeply divided society. Simple sectarian hatred is too deeply rooted to be amenable to high-level political solutions. It is, of course, expressed in political identity and ideology. But it also functions at the same kind of visceral, inchoate level that racism does.

"The talks, in essence, are an attempt not to solve that conflict but to turn it into less bloody channels. The IRA, like the other paramilitaries, is being offered not an outbreak of peace, love and understanding, but a continuation of war by other means. The decision to fight that war without weapons is not an easy one. Hard as it may be to stomach, the IRA needs to be given every opportunity to make it."

DER STANDARD: Roma remain preferred objects of hate

This week's murder of a 26-year-old Roma mother of six in the Czech Republic by three skinheads is the topic of a commentary today by Christoph Winder in the Austrian daily Der Standard: "Three young Czech right-wing radicals beat a Roma woman and then cold-bloodedly threw her unconscious into the Labe river. What happened on Tuesday in the east Bohemian town of Vrchlabi is no single act of brutality but rather the latest link in a long chain of murderous attacks since 1990 in which 17 Roma have been killed."

The writer says: "More than half a century after the fall of the Third Reich in which half a million Roma and Sinti were murdered, they remain preferred objects of hate. Using this knowledge, political demagogues take advantage of broad resentment; politicians like Czech Republican leader Miroslav Sladek who has repeatedly made anti-Roma remarks, or Jan Slota, the head of the Slovak National Party (SNS). He has proposed putting Roma who are 'unwilling to adapt' into ghettos.

"In many candidate states for EU membership, the Sinti and Roma minorities are quite large. Two hundred thousand of them (according to not very reliable estimates) live in the Czech Republic, about twice as many in Slovakia and Bulgaria and up to a million in Romania. It remains to be hoped that the European Union following the latest events will make more of an effort to ensure political and administrative steps are made in these countries to protect minorities. Dealing with the 'Gypsy Question' in the coming years will be one of the most reliable instruments for determining the political culture of new member states."

DIE PRESSE: Many guilty person never gave it a thought to examine themselves

An editorial in Austria's Die Presse looks at the different ways the new democracies have dealt with the past: "In the nine years since the change, the formerly communist states of East Central Europe have sought very different ways to work out the inherited burden of dictatorship.

"In remembering the lesson of the Nazi era, Germany has been by far the most thorough. There were trials and a purge of the administration of former GDR functionaries and there are the so-called Gauck authorities, who have collected hundreds of thousands of Stasi files and allowed those who were targeted to take a look.

"It wasn't all successful. Many East Germans consider the business of dealing with the past, directed by West Germany, as victors' justice and most trials ended unsatisfactorily. (The Stasi's chief of foreign espionage, Markus Wolf), despite numerous attempts has not been brought to justice. Poland and Czechoslovakia took a different path. Former president Mazowiecki and President Havel, both respected ex-dissidents, following the collapse (of Communism) called for drawing a "thick line" over the past. Who ever was guilty should deal with his conscience, the nation as a whole should look forward and together take a better road to the future. This noble generosity proved itself only to a certain extent. Many guilty person never gave it a thought to examine themselves."