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Western Press Review: Terrorism In Russia, New EC Commission

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 16 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today is much concerned again with the effects of a continuing wave of terrorist bombings in Russia -- capped this morning by a fifth lethal blast, this time in the Rostov region south of Moscow. There is also considerable comment on the European Union's new Executive Commission, confirmed yesterday by the EU Parliament in Strasbourg.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Bombing attacks must not obscure need to find new policy for the Caucasus

The Wall Street Journal Europe says that the Russian bombings pose two questions: "Can the government deal with the terrorist threat [without impinging] on the rule of law, such as it exists in Russia? And given the instinct to blame Trans-Caucasus Muslims, will Moscow become even more brutal in trying to suppress separatists in Dagestan and Chechnya?"

The paper writes: "On the first count, the Kremlin's response has so far been level-headed. The government and Kremlin have denied any plans to use the bomb an excuse to declare a state of emergency, much less cancel the December parliamentary elections." But the WSJ adds: "All clarity of thought seems to disappear...when it comes to the Northern Caucasus. ...Whatever the truth [of the assumption that Chechen rebels are directing the bombings], the Kremlin's response has been to step up actions in Chechnya in a way that is bound to further the problem there."

The editorial concludes: "Nobody will fault the resolve to be tough on terrorism. But Russia's leaders will not be wise if they let the bombing obscure the need to find a new policy for the Caucasus, one that recognizes the futility of sheer force to resolve the conflict."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Russia must not overreact

The Los Angeles Times warns that "Russia must not overreact" to the bombings. Like the WSJ, the California daily notes that "the threat of domestic terrorism always puts the rule of law at some risk." It adds: "The challenge for Russia is to meet this crisis without recourse to regressive measures."

The LAT editorial urges that "timetables for the scheduled elections [including a presidential vote next June] should not be changed -- first because postponement isn't warranted, second because Russia urgently needs a parliament more effective than the one it has now and a new president with a broader base of popular support."

The paper sums up: "The terrorism danger can be overcome without sacrificing the gains Russia has made toward representative rule."

BERLINSKE TIDENDE: Terror attacks have put Russia under new kind of pressure

In Denmark, the daily Berlingske Tidende says in an editorial today: "Russia's democracy has not developed much during the decade that has passed since the collapse of communism, and the recent wave of terror attacks has put it under a new kind of pressure. In addition," the paper says, "the series of bombings has also provided new fodder for gossip for the always very active Russian rumor market, where conspiracy theorists are now having a field day."

"But," the editorial continues, "nothing so far suggests that either President Boris Yeltsin or the military will use the situation to declare a state of emergency or attempt some kind of coup d'etat. Such a coup," it adds, "could hardly succeed under the present circumstances [while] Yeltsin, despite all the criticism of his rule -- both at home and abroad -- has always stood by his democratic principles in critical situations."

The paper also says: "Nothing is certain yet about the bombings, but it is surely possible that there is a relationship between the terrorist attacks and the conflict between Russia and the separatist movements in the Caucasus. ...The Caucasian separatists should understand that the use of terror will not further their independence aims. ...Most Russians opposed the war in Chechnya," the paper concludes. "But now the hatred against the 'Black Faces,' as the Caucasians are called in Moscow...has grown."

AFTENPOSTEN: Terror, war in the Caucasus and corruption could provoke countrywide crisis

The Norwegian daily Aftenposten runs a commentary by Halvor Tjoern that says: "Collective anxiety has never been so widespread in Russia over the past 10 years as it is now. No one can go to bed and be sure he will wake up alive the next morning. No one knows what sort of weapons the terrorists will use the next time they strike: poison gas, car bombs, or hand grenades."

The commentary continues: "While Muscovites continue to be [a major] target for the bombs, a real war is going on in the outer reaches of the country. Every day the media report that this or that portion of the federation has been 'purged of terrorists.' This war [in the Caucasus] has become permanent, something no one, not even the military, can bring to an end."

Tjoern also says: "The terrorist crisis has made other major Russian news -- such as the extent of corruption in the Kremlin or the squandering of International Monetary Fund aid -- fade for the moment." He warns in conclusion: "These three phenomena -- widespread terror, the war in the Caucasus and alleged corruption in the Kremlin -- could provoke a countrywide crisis of huge proportions. The more the Russian people realize that the regime that is supposed to govern them is in fact unable to do so, the more the chances of them reacting in an unpredictable manner will grow."

AFTENPOSTEN: The European Union heaved a collective sigh of relief

The same Norwegian paper, Aftenposten, also runs an editorial today on the E.U.'s newly confirmed Executive Commission. The paper writes: "After the European Parliament in Strasbourg gave the commission the green light yesterday, the European Union heaved a collective sigh of relief that its executive crisis was, for the moment at least, over."

The editorial goes on: "The balance of power between the elected members of the European Parliament and the appointed Executive Commission has tilted in recent months in favor of the parliament. All of the new 19 commissioners, their President Romano Prodi promised, will now bear individual responsibility for their actions [rather than the collective responsibility that existed in past commissions]. The EU has thus taken a step closer to the kind of parliamentary system that exists in most of its [15] member states -- and that, no doubt, will be approved by them."

Aftenposten says that the end of the EU's executive crisis means the commission can, after six months of a virtual standstill, today function fully. This is particularly important, the paper writes, because "enlargement to the east is now the [EU's] chief priority. In order to be able to expand the Union from 15 to 25 or 30 countries within the next quarter of a century," the editorial concludes, all of "the EU's institutions must reform themselves in order to continue to be relevant in a changed political environment."

LA STAMPA: Prodi has chosen strategy of carrot and stick

Italy's La Stampa newspaper says that "Prodi has chosen for Europe a strategy of the carrot and the stick." The program of the former Italian prime minister, the paper writes, "demands quick solutions to several long-term problems: an opening to the east, institutional reforms and a rethinking of the social-welfare state."

The editorial notes that "national governments are held back by electoral priorities when these problems are debated domestically. Generally, governments prefer immediate electoral tribute to the long-term political advantages [resolution of these problems will bring]."

But, La Stampa says, the same logic "does not apply to the EU Executive Commission. Its very weakness -- that its members are appointed, not elected -- can also constitute a strength. After [yesterday's] parliamentary approval," the paper concludes, "Prodi can use a stick against national governments to drive them along a difficult but necessary path."

LE MONDE: Commission and parliament will have much greater influence

A commentary in the French daily Le Monde by Laurent Zecchini sees the confirmation of Prodi's new Executive Commission as part of what the writer calls "a new start for Europe." Zecchini says the approval means that, along with a new European Parliament elected three months ago, "two of three pillars of the EU's institutional framework [have been fundamentally changed. The third pillar, the EU's] Council of Ministers can only be wary now of the new appetites for power likely to be created by the changes."

The commentator notes that "the [20-member] commission is now stronger because of the new personalities that compose it. At the same time, the parliament has been emboldened both by its recent political victory [in unseating the previous commission over corruption allegations] and by the extension of powers granted it by recent EU treaties."

All this, Zecchini says, "signals a political rebalancing within the EU triumvirate. From now on," he concludes, "the commission and the parliament will have much greater influence over the rhythm of European construction."