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Western Press Review: Several Issues Vie For Press Attention

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill



Prague, 13 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Editorialists and commentators in the Western press these days are kids at a three-ring circus -- straining to take in a dozen dazzling and ever-changing performances at once. Kashmir, Dagestan, the Kremlin, and the Berlin Wall.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The essential feature of Wahhabism is intolerance

Frankfurter Rundschau commentator Peter Gerner writes from Cairo today that two different views exist about the rebels now roiling Dagestan. The rebels consider themselves to be a liberation movement fighting to drive non-Muslims out, Gerner writes. But, he says, Russian authorities know them as Wahhabis, Islamist rebels. Wahhabis take their name from Arab leader Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Gerner writes, as do the Dagestan rebel leaders who want to break away from Russia. In Gerner's words: "Wahhabism champions a return to the pure teachings of the Prophet Muhammad." He says also that most knowledgeable people believe that, as he puts it, "The essential feature of Wahhabism is intolerance."

NEW YORK TIMES: The word crisis has lost all meaning

Moscow correspondent Celestine Bohlen says in The New York Times that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has changed his government so many times that "the word crisis has lost all meaning." She calls Dagestan a "serious issue of an ugly little war on Russia's southern border." And Bohlen adds that Yeltsin's latest maneuver leaves Russia's politicians to inventory "the latest gamble by the man who has once again shown his determination to dominate [Russian politics] no matter the cost to the country."

In her commentary, Bohlen quotes prominent Russian political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov as saying this: "The only credible future presidents of Russia are [former Prime Minister Yevgeni] Primakov, [Moscow Mayor] Yuri Luzhkov, and [whoever] occupies the post of prime minister."

FINANCIAL TIMES: International peacekeeping forces are allowing the UCK to drive out Serbs, Gypsies, Montenegrins and Jews

The Financial Times, London, carries a commentary today by Mayor Luzhkov. Luzhkov warns of "another Chechnya," but he's not talking about Chechnya's neighboring state of Dagestan. Luzhkov is referring to Kosovo.

Luzhkov lays what he calls "personal responsibility" for ethnic cleansing in Kosovo on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But now, he says, the West in its obsession to unseat Milosevic -- in Luzhkov's terms: "is not paying enough attention to the alarming events in the region." He says international peacekeeping forces are allowing the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) to drive out Serbs, Gypsies, Montenegrins and Jews. Luzhkov calls UCK members "terrorists".

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: For Basayev war and violence are reasons for living

Sueddeutsche Zeitung Moscow writer Tomas Avenarius perceives a current parallel with Chechnya, but he's commenting on the emergence of Chechen rebel chieftain Shamil Basayev as a commander in Dagestan. Avenarius writes: "During the war in Chechnya, the bearded Basayev was one of the boldest of the rebel leaders. His courage in the battle against the Russians is legendary." Avenarius says also: "Wherever [Basayev] turns up, peace is far away. [He] is one of those people for whom war and violence are their reason for living."

GUARDIAN: Yeltsin is trying to ensure that the carnivore who takes over is a loyalist

Jonathan Steele, writing from Moscow in The Guardian, London, comes up with a three-sentence summary of the state of Russian politics. He quotes Yulia Latynina, who he says is one of Moscow's best economic analysts, as saying that Russia won't elect a president but will chose a super-oligarch. Steele's summary goes: "Given just a day after [Russian President] Boris Yeltsin appointed a virtually unknown man as his chosen candidate for next year's presidential election, her view was more cutting than any other reaction. But it surely was accurate. Knowing that his two terms are over, Yeltsin is trying to ensure that the carnivore who takes over the Kremlin next summer is a loyalist whose appetite will be directed away from the Yeltsin family."

WASHINGTON POST: India and Pakistan are ignoring their responsibility

Two press commentators an ocean apart warn of grave danger in the continuing confrontations between India and Pakistan. The Washington Post warns in an editorial: "India and Pakistan carelessly and arrogantly are ignoring their responsibility to step back from the nuclear brink."

AFTENPOSTEN: It is extremely dangerous when neighboring countries start exchanging sharp words

Aftenposten, Norway, concurs. Its editorial says: "It is extremely dangerous when two densely populated neighboring countries, both of which possess nuclear weapons, start exchanging sharp words and occasional bullets."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: They set out to solve the problem with hi-tech

Since today is the 38th anniversary of the closing of the Brandenburg gate between East and West Berlin, the laying of the cornerstone of what became the Berlin Wall, it's not surprising that the prominent Sueddeutsche Zeitung carries commentaries on that edifice. Marion Meier recalls the vow of East German leader Erich Honecker ten years ago that the Wall would stand for another 50 or 100 years. It collapsed soon afterwards. If it had stood, the writer speculates, it would have become a technical monument.

Meier says that East Germany's leaders were embarrassed by world revulsion each time they shot an escaper. So they set out to solve the problem with hi-tech. Meier describes the program this way: "Sensor technology and electronics were to be retrofitted to create a high-tech Wall 2000. Attempts to escape were to be registered by the surveillance system [and countered] as far from the death-strip as possible."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Official interest in the Wall is astonishingly low

But The Wall fell. Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Thierry Chervel writes that Berlin's authorities aren't doing much to preserve the remnants of this monument to communist paranoia. Chervel says that official interest in what Chervel calls "the most absurd and the most symbolic structure of the century" is, in the writer's words, "astonishingly low." He adds that most initiatives for documenting and preserving remains of The Wall are private.

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