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Western Press Review: Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind

  • Don Hill



Prague, 31 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary ranges from the danger of confrontation between rich and poor to the evils of vengeance in Kosovo and the threat of subjugation in East Timor. The common thread is danger.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The new millennium will dawn on a world plagued with simmering conflicts

Prince Hassan of Jordan is the author of a remarkable essay published today by the International Herald Tribune. The prince writes from Amman from the perspective of his co-chairmanship of the Independent Commission of International Humanitarian Issues. The last century, he says, has been the bloodiest in history. He writes: "As if this were not enough, the new millennium will dawn on a world plagued with simmering conflicts."

The leading nations have virtually eliminated the possibility of military confrontation among themselves, Prince Hassan observes. Now, he writes: "Most current conflicts take place within states and among renegade groups not bound by international law."

The answer, says the writer, lies not in suppression but in dialogue, aid, and generosity. He writes: "Violence and terror are often born out of political and economic despair." He says: "Many peoples of the world, unfortunately, do not have much to live for. We can, we must, give them hope."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Capital appears to have become one of money-starved Russia's biggest exports

Revelations and allegations of immense twisted money dealings by Russians fire the pens of many commentators. The Los Angeles Times said this yesterday in an editorial: "Capital appears to have become one of money-starved Russia's biggest exports." The editorial labeled the issue, "A Russia Ruined by Looters."

WASHINGTON POST: Only when the young generation comes to power will we know for sure whether Russia is lost

Foreign affairs columnist Fred Hiatt defends in The Washington Post today the US policy of supporting Russia's leaders even when corruption and error seemed endemic. He writes: "In supporting IMF loans, (the United States) took a calculated risk. On the one hand, most of the money might be wasted or even stolen. On the other, it might (have bought) time for Russia's democratic experiment." The outcome has been discouraging so far, he conceded, but even so it may be better than the alternative of ceding the Kremlin back to the communists would have been. Hiatt contends: "Most of those (in Russia) who have prospered are not crooks. They are young people who have enjoyed a decade of remarkable freedom in which to make their fortune and shape their own lives. Only when that generation comes to power will we know for sure whether Russia is lost."

NEW YORK TIMES: The U.S. would have been irresponsible if it failed to assist the first democratically elected government in Russian history

The New York Times offers a similar view in an editorial today. It mentions, the editorial's words, "some of the darkest corners of Russian life (along) The Russian Money Trail." But the editorial says it is too early to judge whether the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton has mishandled relations with Russia by supporting President Boris Yeltsin. The New York Times says this: "The White House would have been irresponsible if it failed to assist the first democratically elected government in Russian history."

AFTENPOSTEN: NATO must find a way of preserving the legal immunity of the Norwegian officer

The Balkans continue to loom in the concerns of Western commentary. Understandably, Norway's Aftenposten has a viewpoint about the arrest of a Norwegian officer serving in Macedonia. The newspaper summarizes the background as follows. The Norwegian was driving a vehicle that collided with a car carrying a high-ranking Macedonian government official and his family. All but one member of the family died. NATO peacekeeping forces, of which the Norwegian was a member, generally carry immunity from prosecution except by their own governments. But Macedonia has arrested the Norwegian, charging NATO forces' interference with a proper investigation.

Aftenposten, in the words of the editorial, says: "Suddenly, factors other than road safety and legality have come into the picture." It continues: "NATO must find a way both of preserving the legal immunity of the Norwegian officer, and of helping its supporters in Macedonia to avoid embarrassment before their own citizens."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The rebuilding of Kosovo must also develop the other ethnic Albanian populations in the region

Author David Rieff writes in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe that a multi-ethnic Kosovo as envisioned by the West is an unlikely outcome. A combined Albania and Kosovo ought to be considered, he says. But Rieff, co-editor of the recently published book, Crimes of War, says this: "No (immediate) decision should be made in Kosovo that doesn't take into account the spillover effect on Albania and Macedonia. On the economic front, the international effort to rebuild Kosovo must proceed in tandem with an effort to develop the other ethnic Albanian populations in the region."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: International law will rest more on realpolitik assessments

Basic questions of international policy and law remain unanswered by the Kosovo conflict and NATO's response, commentator Max Jacobson writes in the International Herald Tribune. He puts the questions in these words: "Will (Kosovo) be the beginning of an era in which international duty to defend human rights transcends respect for the sovereignty of states? Or should it be considered a transgression of international law that must not be repeated?" When the answers do come, he writes, they'll almost certainly rest less on, in his phrase, "universal principles" than on realpolitik assessments of the specific power ratio at the time.

WASHINGTON POST: Kosovars will damage their own society

The Washington Post labels a Kosovo editorial today, "In Vengeance Dishonor." The editorial condemns Kosovar Albanians' revenge attacks on Serbs. In the newspaper's words: "It is not just the injustice being done to Serbs who are guilty only by ethnic association, nor just that Kosovars will lose abroad the respect they earned during their decade-long nonviolent struggle against Serbian oppression. Far worse is the damage they will do to their own society if they mimic, in whatever attenuated form, (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic's ways."

TIMES: East Timor election day was the most important day in Southeast Asian politics since the end of the Vietnam War

The Times of London carries today a commentary by Australian journalist Greg Sharidan, foreign editor of The Australian. East Timor, the island territory whose residents voted yesterday on whether to claim independence from Indonesia, is significant beyond its own shores, Sheridan says. He calls yesterday's election day, as he puts it: "perhaps the most important day in Southeast Asian politics since the end of the Vietnam War." Here's why, in Sheridan's words: "East Timor (not only is an albatross around Indonesia's neck, (but also) a permanent blight on the Australia-Indonesia relationship. It has become impossible, internationally and domestically, to sustain a constructive policy towards Indonesia while its misrule continues in East Timor."

GUARDIAN: The problem is Home Office inefficiency

Also from London, commentator Isabel Hilton argues in The Guardian that the British government is wrong to threaten visa restrictions for touring Czech citizens simply because the Home Office is finding asylum applications from Czech Romanies overwhelming. The problem is Home Office inefficiency and incompetence, not Czech importunity, she writes. As she puts it: "Only by the standards of the Home Office would (imposing an unfair visa regime) be thought a solution."

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