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Western Press Review: Commentary Ranges World

By Don Hill, Esther Pan and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 7 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- From Russian-Latvian relations to human rights in the United States to politics in Romania, recent Western press commentary ranges the world without particular focus.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Old ethnic rifts run deep in Latvia

Several commentators and analysts speak out about what looks to some like dangerous bear-baiting in Latvia and to others like ill-tempered bear-growling from Russia. In a Los Angeles Times analysis yesterday, Richard C. Paddock attributes a growing confrontation between Latvia and Russia in part to "old ethnic rifts (that) run deep in Latvia."

He writes: "The bombing (last week) of the only surviving synagogue here in the Latvian capital and a parade through the city last month by 500 Nazi World War II veterans have revealed how deeply this small Baltic nation remains divided by historical ethnic rivalries."

Paddock says: "Latvian officials and Jewish community leaders say the recent events do not reflect a resurgence of Nazism in Latvia but instead illustrate how slowly the wounds from half a century of Soviet and Nazi occupation are healing."

The writer notes that some people see the shadowy hand of Russian agents provocateur in the controversy. He says: "While some observers suspect right-wing nationalists inspired by the Latvian Legion march, others hint darkly that Russian secret services might have plotted the bombing in order to damage Latvia's international reputation as it seeks to join NATO and the European Union."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Latvia was thrust to the top of Moscow's hate list

From Moscow, Alan Philps writes today in an analysis in Britain's The Daily Telegraph that, whether instigated by Russia or not, the incidents in Latvia have been found useful by the Russians. Philps writes: "Over the past month, Latvia has been thrust to the top of Moscow's hate list." The writer says: "(The) outrages have been a gift to the Kremlin, which has been trying to raise awareness in the West of the less than perfect human rights record of the Latvians."

WASHINGTON POST: Every country has the right to plot its own course

The Latvian-Russian "drama" has gone little noticed in a Washington bemused by Russian President Boris Yeltsin's recent shake-up of his government, international affairs columnist Fred Hiatt commented in Sunday's Washington Post. Hiatt wrote: "This (drama) began modestly enough on March 3, when a few thousand Russian-speaking residents of Latvia held a demonstration in that tiny Baltic nation's capital of Riga, demanding that the government continue to recognize their Soviet-era passports. The protesters, many of them elderly, tied up traffic for several hours and were finally dispersed forcibly by police."

Hiatt said: "Then Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, a leading candidate to replace Yeltsin as president in the year 2000, really stirred things up. Latvia was 'pursuing a consistent policy of genocide,' Moscow's Hizzoner (dignitary) maintained. He likened Latvia's democratically elected government to Pol Pot's regime in Cambodia and said Russian speakers there 'have practically been turned into slaves.' And the mayor, who runs Russia's largest city as if it were his personal estate, called for all possible measures except force' against Latvia. Now, there's no question that Latvia has been too slow to integrate the 44 percent of its population for whom Russian, not Latvian, is the primary language."

Hiatt continued: "But Luzhkov's comments distorted reality so outrageously that they could only be part of a presidential campaign that will be based on nationalism, bullying and great-power nostalgia -- dangerous in a country where many people still haven't come to terms with the loss of empire."

The columnist wrote: "Some in the West seek to defuse such nationalist sentiment by deferring to it." And added: "This kind of appeasement does Russia's democrats no favor. Every country, no matter how small, has the right to plot its own course. If Primakov and Luzhkov can make gains in the West by threatening Russia's weaker neighbors, they will only do it more. Russians who favor civilized, equitable relations will be weakened."

WASHINGTON POST: Tobacco industry is on the march

Two separate commentaries condemn United States entities on widely different grounds. In an editorial today, The Washington Post laments the marketing behavior of U.S. tobacco companies in transition economies of Eastern Europe. It says, in part: "As communism fell in Eastern Europe, Marlboro Man rode into town. U.S. cigarette makers were in the vanguard, exporting their lethal products as symbols of Western glamour and free-market prosperity. In the former Soviet Union, the three big multinational tobacco firms became, along with energy companies, the biggest investors.

"When Western advertising began to provoke a nationalist backlash, a new brand appeared. 'Peter the Great' cigarettes were designed -- according to an inscription on each pack -- for those who 'believe in the revival of the traditions and grandeur of the Russian lands.' They're made by, yes, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

"The tobacco industry may be on the defensive here, but it's unashamedly on the march overseas, trying any trick to lure old smokers to new brands in ex-Communist countries and hook new smokers there as well as in the developing world."

NEW YORK TIMES: U.N. human rights commission calls for a moratorium on executions

From Geneva, a United Nations special investigator accused the United States in a report to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights of "unfair, arbitrary and racist use of the death penalty." A New York Times account yesterday said: "Overriding U.S. objections, the commission voted last week for the second year in a row to call for a worldwide moratorium on executions. The author of the U.N. report, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, a lawyer from Senegal, wrote that 'race, ethnic origin and economic status appear to be key determinants of who will, and who will not, receive a sentence of death' in the United States. The report was presented to the commission last week. Ndiaye is an independent expert appointed by the commission to investigate extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions worldwide."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Russia should offer compensation for German art treasures

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung turned its attention yesterday to a Russian supreme court ruling upholding legislation requiring Russia to retain art treasures plundered from enemy nations, notably Germany, during World War Two. The newspaper editorializes: "Russia can and should offer some kind of compensation, like the Nazis did at the command of the Allies in 1948. It could, for example, provide modern museum technology, or help in building destroyed cultural memorials. But these would require a willing Duma." It says: "The last word was not spoken yesterday. Soon the Duma will understand that a great power only prospers when it respects international obligations."

LE SOIR: What ever happened to Radovan Karadzic?

A commentary yesterday by Phillipe Deprez, writing from Pale in Brussels' Le Soir, revisits Bosnia. The writer says: "What happened to Radovan Karadzic? Since being added to the Hague's list [of war criminals], the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs has retired from the political scene and lives in shadow, tormented by attacks by commandos who want to detain -- or 'liquidate' -- him. The mystery of his whereabouts has deepened since late last week, when the police unit which guarded his villa in Pale disappeared. [Serbs in Pale] speak of exile in Russia. They still assert that 'Radovan is God!' But more and more, God is hiding."