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Western Press Review: Turkish Quake, The Day After

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill



Prague, 18 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentators today try to make sense of the earthquake in Turkey that killed thousands of people and leveled buildings in Izmit and Istanbul yesterday.

TIMES: Turkish authorities ought to apply rigorous standards to building practices

The Times of London criticizes Turkish authorities for having allowed shoddy building practices while they knew -- or should have known -- that a killer quake was due. In an editorial, the newspaper says that 2,000 years of records show brutal earthquakes occur in Turkey about twice a century, the last one hitting more than a century ago. Turkey quite evidently was due, says the Times.

The editorial continues with these words: "Illicit buildings, put up without permits or adequate attention to safety, run from the historical heart of Istanbul to Izmit." And it adds these: "The fact that (many) ancient monuments have survived so long serves only as a demonstration of how durable and safe a building can and should be." The Times says Turkish authorities ought to apply rigorous standards also to more mundane buildings where people just happen to live -- or under some circumstances die.

NEW YORK TIMES: The quake was simply too swift, too impersonal

In its own editorial, The New York Times doesn't deny government culpability, but the newspaper offers compassion for the victims and the government trying to deal with the disaster. The New York daily says that this natural disaster combined worst case with worst case. The editorial says that "the most brutally powerful quake on record in the area" struck at night in a heavily populated region that appears to have built well beyond its capacity.

This combination, says The New York Times, would overwhelm any government's ability to respond. It was, as the editorial put it, "simply too swift, too impersonal." The newspaper concludes this way: "Restoring the survivors to a sense of living continuity, a sense of earth's stability, will be as hard as rescuing the missing."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Technicians can't tell you where and when earthquakes are going to happen

A Sueddeutsche Zeitung news analysis by Peter Sartorius says that scientists, seers, astrologers and seismologists have sought for years to predict earthquakes. Modern technology, Sartorius writes, can tell you almost everything about earthquakes: how tectonic plates collide beneath the earth's crust; how they build up pressure; and finally, how they break. The only things the technicians can't tell you, the writer says, are details such as, in his words: "Where they are going to happen, and when, and how powerful they are going to be."

BOSTON GLOBE: Centuries-old treasures survived

The Boston Globe marvels in an editorial over how helpless mankinds modern artifacts often are against nature's force. The Globe concludes an editorial with these words: "In Istanbul, reports said, centuries-old treasures such as the Blue Mosque survived. While many of these buildings were extraordinarily ambitious architectural and engineering achievements, time has shown them to be more in concert with nature than many of the reinforced, steel-beamed structures of modern man."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Yeltsin at least maintained a pro-Western stance

From London, the Daily Telegraph takes aim at what its editorial headline refers to as "Two Unpleasant Russians." The text mentions a number of politicians but appears to direct the pejorative at Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov.

The occasion for the commentary is Primakov's announcement yesterday that he will head the parliamentary ticket of Luzhkov's political umbrella known as Fatherland-All Russia. As the Daily Telegraph puts it: "Mr. Luzhkov is ambivalent on economic reform, (and) Mr. Primakov, a friend of Saddam Hussein and a former intelligence chief, distinguished himself as prime minister by his passivity." Yeltsin may be exasperating, says the editorial, but at least he maintained a pro-Western stance.

BOSTON GLOBE: This alliance could dominate December parliamentary elections

Boston Globe correspondent (and former RFE/RL contributor) Brian Whitmore writes in a Boston Globe news analysis that, in the writer's words, "Russia's most popular politician (Primakov) looks like Leonid Brezhnev. He also has zero charisma, and his greatest accomplishment in an eight-month stint as prime minister was that, unlike his predecessors, he didn't do any damage to Russia's already battered economy."

Whitmore says that Primakov's announcement yesterday could transform Russian politics. The Globe correspondent calls Primakov-Luzhkov a "political dream team" and add the following: "If this alliance holds, it could dominate parliamentary elections scheduled for December and catapult one of these two ambitious men into the Kremlin when President Boris Yeltsin's term expires next summer."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Maybe Russia has forgotten its military incompetence

The British newspaper the Financial Times comments on what it calls "Russia's New War." In an editorial, the newspaper says that Dagestan is substantially different from Chechnya. As the editorial puts it: "It is not ethnically homogeneous, but boasts some 34 different nationalities, every one with a different language and different leadership. It barely exists as a unified republic, except that each group tolerates its neighbors, and power has traditionally rotated."

So Dagestan isn't another Chechnya, the newspaper says, but there's a danger that Russia's leadership has so soon forgotten the Chechen lesson, as the Financial Times puts it, "of military incompetence."

AFTENPOSTEN: All other options had been exhausted

Norway's Aftenposten carries a commentary on NATO and Kosovo by Per Fredrik Pharo, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies. Pharo writes that a common critical question about NATO's Balkan is role whether NATO used all of its other options before it began bombarding Serbia. What, asks the analyst, comprises these "other options"?

The writer observes that there had been year-long negotiations, with every approach rejected by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Pharo puts it this way: "Those [in the West] who have opposed NATO's intervention should first explain in what way NATO failed to try all."

Pharo denies concerns expressed by some critics that Kosovo sets a dangerous precedent for aggressive states who may wish to interfere in other nations' internal affairs. The Kosovo intervention, he says, met the following conditions: It was what Pharo calls "an acute humanitarian crisis." The government under attack, he says, "demonstrated its lack of will or ability to avoid a catastrophe." The analyst says also: "All other options (had) been exhausted." And he writes: "The use of force (was) limited only to doing what (was) necessary to avoid the humanitarian disaster."

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