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Western Press Review: Dangers In Defending Democracy

  • Joel Blocker
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 24 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Several West European newspapers today comment on the murder late last week in Saint Petersburg of reformist State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova. In the U.S. press, some analysts are assessing the difficulties United Nations weapons inspectors are encountering only days after Iraq's agreement to allow them back in the country. There is also some commentary today on developments within the European Union and on an incipient policy quarrel between Washington and the new German Left Government.

DER TAGESSPIEGEL: Russia is set on the path of the disintegration of state authority

Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel daily says "that Galina Starovoitova's assassination has shown us a menace far more dangerous than the Russian economic crisis --namely, the disintegration of state authority." The paper continues: "This was not the first murder of a Russian member of parliament. But for the first time the victim was a politician of national significance, a symbol of a clean and democratic Russia who was not involved in corruption or dubious affairs."

The paper's editorial continues: "Russia is less set on the path of economic chaos than on the road to anarchy. This development is dangerous for two reasons: For one thing, it can be underestimated because it is covert and insidious. And secondly, it's almost impossible to restore the state's authority once it has been completely undermined."

BADISCHE NEUESTE NACHRICHTEN: Russian society is only a small step away from an outbreak of hostilities

In western Germany, the Badische Neueste Nachrichten writes in its editorial that "in the aggressive and hostile atmosphere of the present day, Russian society is only a small step away from an outbreak of hostilities." It adds: "Russian politicians are well aware of the moral decline in the society, and are now appealing for calm."

TAGES-ANZEIGER: Corrupt power groups block Russia's reforms and democratization

Switzerland's Tages-Anzeiger, published in Zurich, writes that "Starovoitova has joined the long list of journalists, businessmen and politicians murdered in the past year because in some way or another they crossed the interests of the mighty."

The paper's editorial goes on: "The list makes an uncanny impression because those responsible for the murders have never been caught, even though the public knows where the search should take place. (The guilty parties) are part of the very security organizations which should be solving the murders. But the most corrupt power groups, which Galina Starovoitova tried to fight to the bitter end, block Russia's reforms and democratization."

FIGARO: Not a single Mafia-like murder in Russia has ever been solved

France's Figaro daily says that, while the murder goes unsolved, "Russia's man-in-the-street makes fun of the 'mummified' President Boris Yeltsin who talks about fighting rampant crime but is incapable of speaking for more than a few minutes before the cameras." The paper adds: "Russians are aware, in their nostalgia for a strong state, that not a single Mafia-like murder that has occurred under Yeltsin has ever been solved."

LE MONDE: Galina Starovoitova died faithful to her urgent battles

Le Monde's editorial calls Starovoitova: one of the last and most brilliant figures of a democratic movement that today has been reduced to little influence in the face of Yeltsinites, communists and ultra-nationalists."

The paper's editorial goes on: "The climate in which (her) murder took place is not insignificant: It is one of a Russia led by a sick Boris Yeltsin, once again in hospital for one of his well-known recurring 'pneumonias.' He is incapable of governing a nation in a state of advanced decay, where there are more and more kidnappings, rackets of all sorts, and assassinations of political figures and businessmen."

Le Monde concludes: "Galina Starovoitova died faithful to the urgent battles she was involved in, while the post-Yeltsin struggle begins in a Russia in full decomposition."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The killers fired a chilling shot at democracy

Britain's Financial Times carries a news analysis about the murder by John Thornhill and Arkady Ostrovsky. They write: "The killers...eliminated one of Russia's most prominent reformist members of parliament, but also fired a chilling shot at the country's nominally democratic political system."

The analysis continues: "This looks to be post-communist Russia's first purely political assassination. It has emphasized just how much political tensions have been ratcheted upwards recently in a country still struggling with the principles and practices of a democratic society."

The analysts go on: "The Saint Petersburg police have yet to find Starovoitova's killers, and judging by the record of Russia's criminal investigators they are unlikely to do so. Nevertheless, Starovoitova's reformist colleagues have been quick to pin the blame on the worsening political climate in the country. Since the financial crash (in August), public outbursts by extremists have become more common."

WASHINGTON POST: Dangerously absent is a U.S. determination to enforce promises

On Iraq, the Washington Post's editorial today is titled, with heavy irony, "This Time We Mean it, Maybe."

The paper writes: "You may recall, because it happened only one week ago, that Iraq promised full cooperation with UN arms inspectors. You may recall that President Bill Clinton proclaimed this promise a major accomplishment and, with Iraq's promise in hand, called home U.S. bombers...You may recall also that Administration officials warned that any Iraqi failure to provide requested documents...would result in bombing without further warnings.

"Well," the paper writes, "Iraq has now refused to provide such documents. And the American response? More warnings --and pretty unconvincing ones at that." It adds: "It seems that Saddam Hussein has taken America's climb down last week as yet another victory. Iraq's rhetoric is more bellicose and outrageous than ever."

The paper sums up: "Iraq invaded Kuwait. It lost a subsequent war. It promised, as a condition of cease-fire, to cede all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It is as determined as ever not to honor those promises. Dangerously absent here is an equivalent determination to enforce them."

NEW YORK TIMES: American military action may become unavoidable

The New York Times calls its editorial "Incorrigible Iraq." The paper writes: "Iraq has gotten off to a shaky start in honoring its latest pledge to cooperate with UN arms inspections. By promising Washington that it would halt all interference with the inspectors' search for biological and chemical weapons and prohibited missiles, Baghdad won a last-minute reprieve from American air and missile attacks."

The editorial continues "Now, Saddam Hussein seems to be trimming back that commitment. Iraq is implausibly contending that it does not have most of the weapons documents the inspectors have asked to see and is withholding those it has....If Baghdad is back to its familiar game of thwarting the search for biological and chemical weapons and banned missiles, American military action may become unavoidable."

The NYT concludes: "If Iraq will not permit the inspectors to do their jobs, Washington will have no choice but to reduce Iraq's arsenal of deadly germs and chemicals by military force."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Threats are becoming less and less credible

The Wall Street Journal Europe today says that Saddam's behavior toward inspections has been to: "stall, lie, issue half-baked apologies only when caught red-handed, and, above all, demonize the accusers." The paper then draws a parallel to the behavior of President Clinton "in the face of an investigation by Independent Council Kenneth Starr," arguing that Clinton has done the same.

The WSJ goes on to say in its editorial: "If the past is any guide, even if Iraq is eventually shown to be lying about the (documents requested by the UN) it isn't likely to make much of a difference."

The WSJ sums up: "In an American Administration that mostly engages in shadow boxing, threats are becoming less and less credible."

NEWSWEEK: It is now time for the European Union to lift its sights

Newsweek Magazine's current European edition carries a commentary by editor Michael Elliott on Europe's growing unity. He writes: "European Unity has never been a subject of sole concern to the Europeans. The reason is obvious: From the middle of the 19th century, local rivalries in western Europe have had the nasty habit of turning into world wars..."

Elliott goes on: "It is now time for the European Union to lift its sights...In the immediate future, much will depend on how the EU handles it relations with countries to its east clamoring for membership. All that has been gained (in the past) will be lost if greater integration in the West of the continent comes at the price of relegating the East to a resentful second tier."

He adds: "In the longer term, Euroland can --and probably will-- look beyond its immediate borders. Sure, it is not a military superpower like the U.S. and may not be one for some time. But...the deployment of Euroland's mammoth economic resources can have a strategic impact."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Fischer and his friends ought to think twice

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Editorial-page Director Josef Joffe says that Germany's new Left Government should not try "to Germanize" its NATO policy. He says that "the German government now seems to have touched off a totally unnecessary crisis with its most important ally..."

Joffe explains: "The new German coalition actually wants its allies in Paris, London and Washington to agree to some pretty big changes. The alert status of nuclear weapons tops the list --the German coalition accord between the Social Democrats and the Greens calls for standing the missiles down."

He continues: "Nuclear first-strike plans are the second issue. The Western alliance reserves the right to be the first side in a conflict to unleash atomic weapons. But (new German Foreign Minister Joschka) Fischer says: 'We must discuss it openly in the alliance without giving the impression Germany is going its own way now."

Joffe concludes: "Fischer and his friends ought to think twice about that before they go any farther down the road they are starting on. They will find themselves walking alone down a Germany-only route that Fischer has already said he doesn't want to follow:"