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Western Press Review: Turkey, Yugoslavia, Russia

  • Charles Recknagel

Prague, 20 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey's ongoing tragedy in the aftermath of this week's earthquake continues to dominate opinion and commentary in today's Western Press. But commentators also take time to look at yesterday's mass opposition demonstration in Belgrade and events in Russia.

WASHINGTON POST: Man-made circumstances and geographic chance magnify natural catastrophes

The Washington Post says in an editorial that Turkey's mounting death toll -- which topped 7,000 overnight -- is due in large part to poorly constructed housing which collapsed immediately under the impact of Tuesday's tremors. The paper says that "the dreadful images from this quake's aftermath ... show just how much worse things can get when man-made circumstances and geographic chance magnify natural catastrophe." The paper observes that "many of those who died in the earthquake lived in makeshift but heavily built-up slums that were the scenes of some of the worst carnage."

NEW YORK TIMES: The selection was not so random

New York Times' correspondent Celestine Bohlen sounds the same theme. She writes from a shattered neighborhood outside Istanbul that the destruction from the earthquake was not uniform but has left behind an odd, checkerboard pattern of some buildings which remain standing while others do not. She says: "According to local residents, the selection was not so random ... the difference between the buildings that fell and those that did not lay, they said, in the quality of the construction and in the corners cut by contractors who mix too much sand into cement and use cheap iron in their rush to build housing for Istanbul's exploding population."

Turning to events in Serbia, several papers give mixed reviews to last nights mass rally in Belgrade against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Editorials say that the rally was a measure of how many people in Serbia want Milosevic ousted but also a measure of how little opposition leaders seem to be able to work together to do so.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: A more feckless and divided bunch of politicians would be hard to imagine

In an editorial entitled "Slobo's Feet to the Fire" The Wall Street Journal writes that "as the people of Belgrade prepared for last night's massive anti-government rally, the self-proclaimed leaders of Serbia's opposition were doing what they appear to do best -- fighting among themselves."

The paper continues: "while most of the opposition leaders did finally show up to rally, a more feckless and divided bunch of politicians would be hard to imagine." The Wall Street Journal says that Milosevic will no doubt draw some comfort from the scene "by recalling how the dramatic 1996 opposition protests ended in a whimper and the co-option of some of the opposition leaders."

The editorial concludes: "Certainly so long as [Milosevic's] control over Serbia's main power organs remains, public protest can have little practical effect. Perhaps, however, it will convince some in those structures of the futility of serving so bankrupt a leader."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: People tend to get the leaders they deserve

Britain's Daily Telegraph writes in an editorial titled "The Leader Serbs Deserve" that events in Serbia all point to the fact that the time is ripe for the opposition to finally succeed in ousting Milosevic. It notes that "the Serbian economy has been brought to its knees by the recent NATO air campaign and that policemen and soldiers, the regime's prop of last resort, have not been paid." But, the paper says, "sadly [the opposition] is failing to take full advantage" of circumstances by fighting among itself over who will be the new leaders. The Daily Telegraph concludes: "in a democracy, however imperfect, the people tend to get the leaders they deserve. If Milosevic's opponents and those who claim to represent them at the head of political parties, cannot remove him, they will have failed themselves and their country."

Several papers today weigh recent events in Russia ranging from politics to the ongoing conflict in Dagestan.

NEW YORK TIMES: The compact seems destined to be broken

In an analysis in The New York Times Philip Taubman compares the recent political alliance between former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov to the famous pact of convenience once struck by Hitler and Stalin. He writes: "The newly formed alliance between two of Russia's most cunning politicians ... brings to mind the 1939 German-Soviet non-aggression pact at the beginning of the Second World War." He goes on to say that "the compact unveiled this week offers temporary tactical advantages to both men but ... it seems destined to be broken when either party decides it is no longer convenient." Taubman concludes that if the camps of "Mr. Primakov and Mr. Luzhkov sustain their alliance, with one accepting the role of junior partner, they will be hard to beat" in Russia's upcoming parliamentary and presidential contests. But he predicts that if the partnership dissolves, Russians can expect the election campaigning to resemble "a 15-round heavyweight fight with punching below the belt."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Yeltsin has become convinced he needs the secret services' upper ranks

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung says that Yeltsin's frequent hiring and firing of prime ministers may give the impression there is little continuity in the Russian government, but the fact is that his recent choice of prime ministers has had a certain consistency. Correspondent Josef Riedmiller writes in an analysis from Moscow that "three times in a row, [Yeltsin] has appointed to the premiership a man with a previous career in the secret service: first Yevgeny Primakov, then Sergei Stepashin, and now Vladimir Putin. Riedmiller says that "at first glance, Yeltsin's predilection for security service personnel seems strange" since after the attempted August 1991 coup Yeltsin pressed for dissolving the KGB. But the writer concludes Yeltsin has since changed his mind and now has become convinced that he needs the "breadth of worldly knowledge and intelligence assembled in [the secret services'] upper ranks".

LE MONDE: The Caucasus has never been an easy battleground for Russian forces

France's Le Monde turns to events in Dagestan in an editorial titled "Trap in the Caucasus. The paper says that Moscow's inability to develop a new policy toward the Caucasus after the collapse of the Soviet Union casts doubt on its ability to end unrest in the region by simply using its army. Editorial writer Jacques Amalric says that "the Caucasus has never been an easy battleground for Russian or even Soviet forces ... [and] if anyone has forgotten that in Moscow the debacle in Chechnya is recent enough to remind them." Amalric says that at the moment, Moscow appears to have the upper hand in maintaining control of Dagestan thanks to lack of national sentiment in the republic and Dagestani and Russian leaders' mutual interest in oil profits. But he warns that Moscow's "incapacity to imagine a new policy for the Caucasus as well as its ... inability to forge relations with moderate [Chechen] president [Aslan] Maskhadov all play into the hands of Islamic forces which bet on the isolation, distress and poverty of the population to radicalize it and set fire to the whole region, from the Black Sea to the Caspian."