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Western Press Review: From East Timor To Russia And Between

  • Don Hill



Prague, 1 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary addresses issues today from the underside of the world, East Timor, to the underside of Russia, financial corruption -- as well as points between.

TIMES: Indonesia could become the next Yugoslavia

The Times of London says in an editorial that if East Timor succeeds in wrenching itself free of Indonesia, other independence movements are likely to gain momentum. The Times says: "So full of competing ethnicities and religions is Indonesia, a vast Asian archipelago made up of 13,000 islands stretching across five time zones, that some observers fear it could become the next Yugoslavia."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Everything changed very quickly

From Singapore, Andreas Baenziger comments in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Monday's vote in East Timor was a triumph for a long-time campaigner, former East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta. Now, says Baenziger, he seeks only reconciliation. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung writer says that he was an international invisible man until awarded the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.

Baenziger writes: "For a long time Ramos Horta's appeals for help fell mainly on deaf ears -- whether in the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. General Assembly, or the world body's humanitarian commission, where he accused the Indonesians of human rights abuse and demanded in vain a referendum on independence under UN supervision."

The commentator says that, in her phrase, "the world" ignored East Timor's suffering until the Nobel Prize went jointly to Horta and the Catholic bishop of the East Timorese capital Dili, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo. Then, she writes, "Everything changed very quickly."

WASHINGTON POST: The militias are again blustering and attacking

The Washington Post calls East Timor's turnout of 98.6 percent of eligible voters "astonishing." In an editorial, the newspaper cites the example of a 23-year-old man, who arrived on a stretcher with an intravenous drip, having been wounded by anti-independence militiamen. The man, Usulau de Jesus Cepeda, told a reporter from the New York Times, "I want freedom. It's now or never." Election day was mostly calm in East Timor. The day after the election, however, was different, in The Washington Post's phrase: "with the militias once again blustering and attacking."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Lies and immorality, unfortunately, survived the end of communism

German commentator Thomas Urban, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, seems to agree with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who said this week that the world should, in his words, "calm down" about corruption in Russia. Urban, writing from Moscow, says this: "If the Soviet system had not been deeply corrupt it could not have held together for so long." Urban adds: "Lies and immorality, unfortunately, survived the end of communism."

WASHINGTON POST: Our policy toward Russia has been a crapshoot

In the United States, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius takes issue with Talbott, as well as with earlier commentaries that defended the US policy of throwing money at Russia as calculated risk. It's been a risk all right, Ignatius says, but one without reasonable calculation of the negative odds.

In the writer's words: "Talbott's calm discussion of the looting of Russia strikes me as part of the problem. Similarly, the statements issuing from Vice President Gore's office this past week smack of the same 'we've-read-intelligence-and-we-know-best' tone. It would be more reassuring if these folks told the truth: Our policy toward Russia has been a crapshoot, and growing evidence -- symbolized by recent news reports on the alleged $10 billion Russian money-laundering operation through the Bank of New York -- suggests that it hasn't worked."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The stakes for the Kremlin are high

In the Los Angeles Times, staff writer Maura Reynolds writes in a news analysis from Moscow that what she calls, "the money scandals swirling around the Kremlin," have their vortex in Pavel Borodin, confidante of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Reynolds also says this: "The stakes for the Kremlin are high. For years, Russians have believed that the political elite has been looting the country's best assets for personal gain. (Should the latest) allegations be proved, Yeltsin would be seen not only as the president who helped dismantle the Soviet Union but as the president who looted its ruins."

NEW YORK TIMES: Holbrooke has pointed the U.N. operation in a more promising direction

On a different U.S. foreign policy matter, the New York Times praises diplomat Richard Holbrooke for choosing Kosovo as the destination of his first official trip as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The Times says in an editorial that Holbrooke chose wisely because, in the newspaper's words: "Peace and democracy will take root in the province only if Washington and the U.N. closely coordinate their efforts." The Times also says that Holbrooke, by urging international representatives in Kosovo to be bold and decisive, pointed the U.N. operation in Kosovo in what the newspaper calls, "a more promising direction."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Arabs, Europeans, and Americans do not want to understand Gaddafi

Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Heiko Flottau writes from Cairo today about what he calls Libya's "lost decade" since Muammar Gaddafi, in the writer's words: "plunged (Libya) into 10 years of isolation" with the bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. Today is the 30th anniversary of the day Gaddafi seized power in Libya. The writer says this: "Arabs, Europeans and Americans may often deride Gaddafi as slightly mad, but that shows only that they do not want to understand him."

WASHINGTON POST: Creationism may be actively opposed before too much damage is done

The Washington Post publishes a commentary today by William R. Roy, a retired physician and former Democratic member of the U.S. Congress. Roy discusses developments in the U.S. central state of Kansas, where fundamentalist Christians have discouraged the teaching of the scientific theory of evolution. Roy writes: "With a few carefully chosen words downgrading Darwin's theory of macroevolution and opening the door to the teaching of creationism, the Kansas State Board of Education has made our state a target of derision across the country and throughout the world." The world is right, Roy -- himself a Kansan -- says. Christian fundamentalists, in his words: "are using attacks on the theory of evolution, code phrases such as 'intelligent-design theory,' 'theistic science' and other subtle arguments to introduce creationism into the public schools and, most important, obliterate teaching the theory of evolution, which they hold responsible for many of the world's ills."

But there's a bright side, Roy says. The controversy has provided science advocates an opportunity to warn, as the writer puts it, "the rest of the world about the size, scope and dedication of the creationist movement, so that it may be actively opposed before too much damage is done to young American minds and American science."
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