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Western Press Review: Ocalan Case, Other Topics

  • Don Hill

Prague, 2 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Whether or not Turkey should carry out a court's death sentence against Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan occupies several Western press commentaries. Others range over a variety of topics.

LE MONDE: Turkey also has to consider what it could gain

Nicole Pope writes in a news analysis in the French daily Le Monde that the Turkish public is divided over whether the government should go ahead with executing Ocalan. Writing from Istanbul, she says: "Newspaper editorials weigh the pros and cons of execution, whose principal merit is seen as calming the desire for revenge by families of victims of [Kurdish rebel] violence." The analysis continues: "Several commentators attack [what they call] the hypocrisy of Europeans. Still, it's clear that Turkey does not want to burn its bridges with Europe."

Pope concludes: "For Turkish authorities, the first concern is obviously the national interest, and public opinion remains, for the time being, in favor of execution. Beyond the risk of Western sanctions [if the execution were carried out], Turkey also has to consider what it could gain from a more flexible attitude."

BOSTON GLOBE: Turkey will have to resolve wisely an identity crisis

The Boston Globe says in an editorial that the Ocalan case shines a light on a deep Turkish identity crisis. The newspaper says: "The death sentence a state security court handed down this week for the leader of the violent Kurdistan Workers' Party, Abdullah Ocalan, represents a temporary triumph against separatist and terrorist forces. It also illuminates an identity crisis that Turkey will have to resolve wisely if it wishes to fulfill the modernizing aspirations of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish nation-state that succeeded the Ottoman Empire."

The Globe concludes: "The Turkish government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit is embarked on a modernizing program that includes reforms in banking laws, social security, and the state security laws. For its own sake and not merely to please members of the European Union who have been hypocritical in their reluctance to grant Turkish membership in the EU, the government of Turkey should undertake a modernization that would allow the Kurds to become Turks without ceasing to be Kurds. That would solve the problem of which Ocalan was an effect, not a cause."

From Greece, where criticism of the historic enemy, Turkey, is commonplace, two newspaper commentaries point fingers at shortcomings in Turkey's justice system and the fairness of the Ocalan trial.

KATHIMERINI: Court deprived Ocalan of a fair trial

Pantelis Boukalas wrote yesterday in Kathimerini daily: "Amnesty International pointed out one by one the violations of Abdullah Ocalan's right to a fair trial. I quote: Failure to provide prompt access to a judge; failure to provide prompt access to a lawyer; failure to allow enough time to communicate with a lawyer; violations of a defendant's right to confidential communication with his lawyer; failure to allow (Ocalan) enough time and means to prepare his defense, as well as failure to inform him promptly of the charges against him; and failure to secure the conduct of the trial by an independent and impartial court."

The writer said: "Let us add that no defense witnesses were called to court; that Ocalan's lawyers were jeered at by enraged crowds; that the court was taken over by the parents of the what were termed Turkish martyrs; that none of the relatives of the tens of thousands of Kurds that were wiped out by the Turkish army or the hundreds of thousands that were displaced from their homes were there; that during the trial the accused was confined in a glass cage."

TO VIMA: The Kurdish issue is a social issue

Iraklis Millas wrote in To Vima daily: "We were disturbed by the bandage on the prisoner's eyes, the military judge, the limited time given to defense lawyers, etc. But if these things had not happened, what would have changed? Simply, with a better bureaucratic system, all these irregularities could have been avoided. But the sentence would have been the same, since Turkey's laws are categorical on acts of armed insurgency."

He said: "The Kurdish issue is not a legal issue. Perhaps it is not a political issue either, but instead, a social issue. Turkey is going through a historical period of turmoil, which is marked by a search for national identity and cohesion."

The Kosovo crisis and its aftermath continue to draw commentary.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The United States must learn to be a special power

In the International Herald-Tribune, independent commentator Flora Lewis writes: "The war in Kosovo has provoked a tidal wave of concern about American intentions around the world far beyond what anyone in the United States seems to realize. It is not just the Russians and the Chinese who think that the United States now has decided to ride roughshod over everyone else."

She writes: "The United States is failing to explain that it knows its vision for a peaceful, humane world requires full partnership with others." She says: "Americans who deride the United Nations, refuse to pay their UN bills, or treat the UN as a foreign irritant rather than a society in which the United States holds proud membership, should be aware of the hostility that arouses."

Lewis writers: "As a result of the Cold War and the transformation of world affairs that globalization connotes, the United States must learn to be a special power, contained by its own might to feel and observe community."

NEW YORK TIMES: Power politics will always rule international affairs

Commentator Tina Rosenberg treats the war over Kosovo as an international -- not merely U.S. -- endeavor. She writes in The New York Times that Kosovo and coincidental events have diminished the principle of national sovereignty. This isn't necessarily negative, she concludes.

Rosenberg writes: "Among its other casualties, the war in Kosovo punctured the sanctity of state sovereignty -- the idea that a nation's actions within its borders are its own business. This concept has organized international relations since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648."

Rosenberg says: "Sovereignty's worst day in memory was undoubtedly March 24. NATO began bombing Serbia, probably the first multinational attack designed primarily to stop violations of international law within a country's borders. The same day, England's high court ruled that London could send Augusto Pinochet to Spain to be tried for crimes in Chile, as both European countries had signed an international convention promising to prosecute torturers, no matter where their crimes took place. Then on May 27, the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia announced a warrant for the arrest of [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic. It was the first indictment of a sitting head of state for violations of international law."

The writer concludes: "Power politics will always rule international affairs. But the last 50 years have seen the rise of universally endorsed principles of conduct. The extent to which the world chooses to respect them, even when they conflict with sovereignty, is a good measure of civilization's progress."

DIE WELT: The opposition is its own greatest danger

In the German newspaper Die Weld, Boris Kanolky writes in a news analysis from Belgrade that opposition leaders are emerging from the shadows and raising their voices in Yugoslavia but are also stumbling over each other in disarray. He writes: "It does not matter whether they are from the extreme right, whether they are democrats or populists, all now want to raise their profiles." Kanolky writes: "They have founded an alliance called Alliance for Change, which includes the three small parties as well as the stronger Democratic Party (DP) of former Belgrade mayor Zoran Djindjic. But not even the DP is managing to get more than 6 per cent in opinion polls. [One] group calls itself Citizens' Parliament. The fact that the opposition is strong in [the town of] Cacak was shown on Tuesday when 10,000 people defied a police ban to demonstrate. It was the clearest indication that the democratic camp is gaining force."

The analysis says: "One reason is the curious relationship with the Serbian Orthodox church. [Kosovo now] is lost and the church is demanding Milosevic's resignation. That is causing the government some concern because the church addresses Milosevic's traditional electorate: the people in the provinces, especially the elderly." The writer says: "The opposition has a long road ahead. But Milosevic is not its greatest danger. It is its own greatest danger. This is a situation which Slobodan Milosevic has long exploited."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Israeli society is in dire need of being reunited

A major Danish newspaper discusses the new government of Israel. Berlingske Tidende says Prime Minister Ehud Barak has moved deftly but has many hurdles still to leap. The newspaper says: "Forming a government in Israel is a lengthy affair. [Finally], a-month-and-a-half after the general elections, [Barak] is expected to present his government. The former soldier with little experience in politics, however, appears to have used his time well."

But, the editorial concludes: "Barak can expect serious problems domestically; One of them will be to get the coalition partners to agree about religion's place in society. Israel is deeply split on this issue. Its society is in dire need of being re-united, especially after the divisions created by the outgoing cabinet."

(Joel Blocker, Anthony Georgieff, Dora Slaba, and Alexis Papasotiriou contributed to today's western press review.)