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Western Press Review: Commentary Finds Range Of Topics

  • Don Hill



Prague, 20 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary ranges over varied international topics today, but finds reference points for most of them in Topic Number One: the war over Kosovo.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Nationalism resurges in Turkey

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Wolfgang Koydl writes in a commentary from Istanbul that Turkey's weekend elections disclosed a resurgent nationalism there. Koydl says: "Turkey is turning its back on Europe, in a sea of surging nationalism set to a threatening, chauvinistic chorus. This is the bitter reality that must be faced after Sunday's parliamentary elections, in which almost every second vote went to arch-nationalists. They are Europe-haters all, whether from the so-called left of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left Party (DSP) or from the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) led by old fascist Devlet Bahceli."

The writer says: "It is all coming at a most unfortunate time. With Yugoslavia burning, the Balkans tottering and Europe groaning under the heavy burden and responsibility of war."

NEW YORK TIMES: Votes for Nationalist Action was one of several surprises

Also from Istanbul, Stephen Kinzer writes in a New York Times news analysis that the election results dramatized a huge political gap between Turkish Kurds and native Turks. The Kurds won local office in areas where they predominate, but failed to win national representation, while the Nationalist Action Party won unexpectedly strong representation in parliament.

Kinzer goes on: "Nationalist Action is based on the ideology of pan-Turkism, which holds that Turkic peoples from the Balkans to China are part of a great nation. Its symbol is a gray wolf, a reference to an ancient legend of a gray wolf that led Turkic tribes westward from their ancestral homeland in Central Asia many centuries ago." He writes: "In the past, Nationalist Action has included strong strains of chauvinist nationalism. Paramilitary groups associated with the party are said to have been responsible for killing thousands of leftists, Kurdish nationalists and others during the late 1970s, a period of upheaval that was ended by a military coup in 1980."

The New York Times writer says: "The surge of votes for Nationalist Action was one of several surprises in the voting on Sunday. The Islamic-oriented Virtue party, which some had viewed as the most potent force in Turkish politics, slumped unexpectedly to third place with about 16 percent. It managed, however, to re-elect its mayors in the country's two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara."

WASHINGTON POST: Even small-time dictators can cause damage



The Washington Post aims an editorial at what it calls "Europe's Other Dictator," the first, of course, being Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic. Says The Post: "It is easy, too easy, to dismiss Belarus President Alyeksander Lukashenka as a tin-pot joke. He operates with the sophistication one would expect of a former Soviet collective-farm chairman." The editorial says: "But it would be a mistake to underestimate Mr. Lukashenka and the menace he represents."

He wants Belarus to reunite with Russia to give himself a larger stage, The Post says, and goes on: "His instigation of a Slavic union of Russia, Belarus, and Yugoslavia is one more step on that path, of little practical significance but rhetorically useful." The editorial concludes: "The West may be distracted by its struggle in Yugoslavia, but it should take Serbia as a lesson on how much damage even small-time dictators can cause."

NEW YORK TIMES: The move back to Berlin has heightened sensitivity

Even the opening of Germany's parliament yesterday in the rebuilt Reichstag in Berlin, writes Roger Cohen in The New York Times, takes additional meaning from the bombs in Yugoslavia. The writer says: "With solemnity but little pomp, and with Europe at war in the Balkans, Germany returned its parliament to the Reichstag, 66 years after a fire there ushered in Hitler's dictatorship." Cohen writes: "With its many ghosts -- of imperialism, fascism, communism and division -- Berlin has stirred some old fears that its periods as a German capital are synonymous with disaster. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder appeared concerned to allay any such concerns, saying it was the success of the Bonn democracy that (made) the Berlin Republic possible."

The writer adds: "Sensitivity about the move back to Berlin has been heightened by the fact that the first session in a building touched by so many of this century's conflicts took place as war raged in the Balkans with German planes taking part in NATO attacks on Serbia."

WASHINGTON POST: What isn't defensible is pretending that the dilemma doesn't exist

Commentator Fred Hiatt in The Washington Post claims to find a connector between U.S. President Bill Clinton's highly publicized earlier lies and a "re-arranging of the truth" about Kosovo. Hiatt writes: "President Clinton's falsehoods landed him in trouble with a federal judge last week. Yet as he faced his gravest foreign policy crisis, in Kosovo, the contempt citation did not seem to have jarred him from his habit of re-arranging the truth."

Hiatt cites a line from a recent Clinton speech: "And now, we know that it is possible to act before it is too late." Hiatt writes: "Before it is too late? Even as Clinton was congratulating himself, Slobodan Milosevic's troops were burning homes, shooting men, raping women. This was not Clinton's fault; it was Milosevic's fault. Yet it had become NATO's responsibility. It couldn't be wished away: We were too late. It wasn't surprising that Clinton would want reality to be otherwise. Much of his foreign policy is in tatters."

The commentary concludes: "Having miscalculated what could be accomplished from the air, it would seem wise for Clinton at least to begin planning for a ground campaign, which may be the only way to accomplish the goals he has pledged to achieve. But there are defensible arguments against that position (it would split the alliance, it would become a quagmire). None of Clinton's critics can point to a risk-free solution. What isn't defensible is pretending that the dilemma doesn't exist."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: We have to pursue our objectives one at a time

Support for the White House position comes today from an unaccustomed source. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine contends in interview form in the International Herald Tribune that not only is the West in consensus over its goal in Yugoslavia, but also that Russia joins the consensus. An excerpt: "We have to pursue our objectives one at a time. Our general goal, shared by all the Western countries, including the Russians, I believe, is to see ex-Yugoslavia come into line with European norms and become democratic. That means a change of regime in Serbia. But that long-term objective is different from the air strikes' purpose, which is to break the military strength that the regime is using for repression."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Clinton administration seeks to direct NATO toward a new strategic concept

The Los Angeles Times said yesterday in an editorial that even the celebratory NATO summit to begin Friday must be looked at through the dark glass of the Kosovar war. The editorial says: "That NATO's viability may be determined by what happens in an obscure Balkan province seems almost absurd. Yet Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic's brutal campaign to rid Kosovo of its majority Albanian populace is exactly the kind of challenge to peace and security the Clinton administration has in mind as it seeks to direct NATO toward a new strategic concept."

The Guardian, London, publishes today a sampling of critical commentary on the war, including opinions from France's Liberation, Italy's Il Manifesto, and Belgium's Le Soir. Here are excerpts:

LIBERATION: Determination can be more decisive than sophisticated weapons

Liberation: "No one needs to go to war to know the determination of protagonists in a conflict can sometimes be more decisive than the sophistication of their weapons."

IL MANIFESTO: Those so indignant with the Serbs have probably never read the agreement

Il Manifesto: "I suspect that those who become so indignant with the Serbs for rejecting everything, 'even' the Rambouillet accord, have never read the text of the agreement."

LE SOIR: One cannot use a word like victory

Le Soir: "One cannot use a word like victory when one sees that Milosevic is still on parade successfully waving the standard of ultra-nationalism."

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