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Western Press Review: Commentors Range The World

  • Don Hill



Prague, 26 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- With no single issue dominating current affairs, Western press commentary yesterday and today ranges the world and a variety of concerns.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Parties which carry out the dirty work of reform end up being kicked out

British and German newspapers examine, for the most part optimistically, the outcome of Sunday's final runoff election in Hungary. Commentator Michael Frank writes today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "The same perverse electoral arithmetic which gave Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn an undeservedly large parliamentary majority four years ago has been equally unjust in ousting his Socialist Party from power."

The commentary says: "It has been a general rule of thumb that the parties which carry out the dirty work of reform in the post-Soviet countries end up being kicked out by ungrateful voters."

Frank continues: "Gross domestic product, productivity and exports are all growing, and there are clear signs of a decisive improvement in the living standards for most Hungarians. Yet there is a lack of experience in government."

The editorial says that the likely new prime minister, Viktor Orban, "recognizes that the European Union, which Hungary hopes to join within five years at most, will take a dim view if the economy spins out of control under his stewardship."

DIE WELT: Forming a new government promises to be a thorny task

In Germany's Die Welt, Boris Kalnoky comments: "A new government led by the center-right looks likely, if not certain, following the defeat of Prime Minister Gyula Horn's Socialist Party in the run-off round of Hungary's elections." Kalnoky says: "Fidesz (Young Democrats) leader Victor Orban ruled out a coalition with the Socialists, who won 35 per cent of the vote and 134 seats but had little hope of leading another government after the slap delivered to their long-time ally and coalition partner, the Free Democrats."

The writer says: "Forming a new government promises to be a thorny task for Orban, but he predicted confidently after the results came in on Sunday night that he would be able to put forward a cabinet list within three weeks."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Religious zealots have stooped to a barbarous low

The Los Angeles Times yesterday denounced Afghanistan's ruling Taleban militia for a new twist on old humanitarian aid politics. The newspaper said, in an editorial: "The Taleban, religious zealots trying to consolidate power in Afghanistan, have stooped to a barbarous low by starving civilians in an attempt to defeat their enemies. The Islamic fundamentalists have blocked supplies from reaching the central Afghanistan region of Hazarajat, home to their ethnic foes, the Hazara people."

The editorial concluded: "For now there is little choice for aid groups and outside governments but to push the Taliban to relent. Neighboring Pakistan, especially, should use its considerable influence to persuade the Taliban to see it gains nothing by starving the people with whom it shares a desolate land."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: No one has ever accused Habibie of lacking intelligence

Indonesia's new president, Jusuf Habibie, bears a reputation for serious character flaws. But, says a commentary in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, his early moves suggest that stupidity isn't one of them.

Stefan Klein writes: "The thumbnail sketches of Indonesia's new president, Jusuf Habibie, that are in circulation are not the most flattering. Some see him as a vain egomaniac, while others rate him a brilliant eccentric. But no one is clearing him of accusations of nepotism and corruption. That said, no one has ever accused him of lacking intelligence."

Klein concludes: "There can be no doubt that President Habibie is moving in the right direction with his attempts to distance himself from the Suharto regime. But he has no choice if he is to gain popular support and, at least as importantly, to regain the confidence of international financial donors."

NEW YORK TIMES: Pakistan and India face an unstable equation

Potential new nuclear powers Pakistan and India will face off in a situation in its way more dangerously unstable than the long U.S.-Soviet Union stalemate, The New York Times said yesterday in an editorial. The Times said: "If Pakistan tests nuclear weapons, as many expect, South Asia will have a pair of hostile nuclear powers. While a nuclear standoff between the United States and Soviet Union may have helped to keep the Cold War from becoming a hot war, Pakistan and India face a more unstable equation."

The editorial concluded: "The United States and Soviet Union came close to a nuclear exchange several times. The most serious was during the Cuban missile crisis, but there were also several times when intelligence failures almost provoked a launch. It will be harder to avoid a confrontation in the atmosphere of mistrust, tension and irresponsibility that clouds South Asia today."

WASHINGTON POST: It is dangerous and wrong to give up peace talks

The Washington Post said yesterday that, despite setbacks, the United States should press on trying to mediate Mideast peace. The newspaper editorialized: "Israel's prime minister is right, of course, when he asserts that Israel must reserve to itself decisions on vital security concerns that affect the life of the state and the Israeli future."

The Post said that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright affirms her predecessor Warren Christopher's pledge of American constancy toward Israel and the Mideast. It said: "But, she adds, 'it is in the nature of partnership that Israel should take Palestinian concerns into account, while following the terms of its agreement. Otherwise, the peace process cannot move forward.'"

The editorial said: "These are not the words of a government bent on pushing a dependent ally into future jeopardy. They are the words of a mediator or facilitator trying to bring about a settlement and to bring about the only kind of settlement that is feasible and worth making, one that is accepted by both sides. The peace talks are limping these days. But it is dangerous and wrong to give them up."

NEW YORK TIMES: NATO expansion, Indian nuclear tests and Israeli obstinacy are all playing with fire

Writing in a New York Times commentary today, Thomas L. Friedman says he perceives a link between NATO expansion, India's nuclear testing, and even Israeli recalcitrance. It is, he says, the absence of the temper-cooling restraints of the Cold War.

The commentator writes: "NATO expansion, India's nuclear tests and, I would add, Israel's refusal to accept U.S. proposals to break the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate because not every right-winger in the cabinet agrees are all manifestations of the same phenomenon - the collapse of the Cold War international system and the creation of the illusion that the world is now safe for countries to drive their foreign policies solely by their domestic needs of the moment."

Friedman says: "The Cold War system was good at restraining missile madness, by threatening those who misbehaved with the death penalty. The globalization system is better at restraining economic madness by threatening those who misbehave with loss of investment and bankruptcy.

"Which is why NATO expansion, Indian nuclear tests and Israeli obstinacy are all playing with fire. They are all acts of domestically driven foreign policy in a world system that is now safe for countries to be reckless -- but not safe for them to be ridiculous. Actions still have consequences, the possibility of miscalculation and unintended escalations is still alive and well, and they can burst the restraints of any international system."

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