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Western Press Review: Chechnya, Austria Draw Commentary

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill

Prague, 5 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's new assault on Chechnya with troops on the ground draws Western press scrutiny today. In addition, German, Danish, and British newspapers carry comment on Austria's election results.

The Wall Street Journal Europe says in an editorial that Russia has unclear or, at least, mixed motives in stepping up the Chechnya fight -- trying to seal off Chechen terrorists; responding to public support for the earlier bombing; diverting attention from scandals and corruption in the Kremlin. The editorial says this: "Whatever the reasoning behind the latest escalation in the north Caucasus, it would seem to demand some sort of response from the West. But what?"

The Wall Street Journal Europe editorial concludes: "If (Chechen President Aslan) Maskhadov's call for international peacekeepers is best rejected, surely his appeal to the West at least not to finance Russia's war with Chechnya through IMF loans has much merit. Russia is not oblivious to world opinion; indeed, it is sensitive to it. It basked in the sympathy it received during the terrorist bombings. Applying moral and diplomatic pressure on Moscow would be the least the West could do."

Writing from Moscow in Die Welt, German commentator Jens Hartmann says that attacking Russian troops have become in his word "entangled" in battles with rebels inside the Chechen Republic. He says that what he calls "a sorry stream" of refugees is flowing out of Chechnya. In Hartmann's words: "They are fleeing in the only direction open to them: into the neighboring small republic of Ingushetia, which has remained loyal to the Russian Federation throughout, although it has linguistic ties with Chechnya. Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev believes the republic will have to play host to the refugees beyond the year's end."

From Norway, Aftenposten says this in an editorial: "Obligatory good news of Russian victories in Chechnya have given way (in Russia) to less prominent reports about daily (terrorist) bombings, about threats from Chechen separatists in particular, and about the integrity of Russia." The editorial recalls Russian defeats in Chechnya 140 years ago and, by inference, its humiliation there two-and-a-half years ago. As the editorial puts it: "If there is a place where history repeats itself, that place is Chechnya." Aftenposten also says this: "Moscow may find it easier to stop Chechen saboteurs in Russia than to quell the uprising in Chechnya, which demands more sovereignty (for itself) than the Russians find palatable."

The London Times writes in an editorial about what it calls in a headline the "Chechen Cauldron." It calls on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to help extricate Russia from this latest Chechen squabble. The editorial calls the OSCE "the one (Western) body (Russia) trusts." The editorial then says this: "The OSCE played a role -- low key and ineffective -- the last time. It could attempt something more robust this time."

Examining the success of a far right party in Austria's general elections, The Daily Telegraph, London, headlines its editorial "Austria's Malign Star." The editorial says of Austria's long ruling coalition between the Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party that it, in The Daily Telegraph's words, "engendered a cozy, corrupt consensus based on a tripartite consultation between the ruling parties, business and organized labor."

The editorial says that the success of Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party amounted to a condemnation of this, in The Daily Telegraph's phrase, "corporatist, consensual approach to politics." It also says this: "The climate in Central Europe has altered radically over the past decade. The old coalition partners have gone on much as before. Unless they change, Mr. Haider's malign star will continue to rise."

Denmark's Information says in an editorial that Haider didn't grow strong because of his Nazi-sympathizing or xenophobic remarks. The newspaper says this: "The vote of the Austrians should be seen as an act of protest against the tedious Black-Red coalition of Chancellor Viktor Klima's Social Democrats and Vice Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessels's conservatives." It says that Haider will have to moderate his stands if the Freedom Party enters the national government.

It suggests, however, that some nervousness may be in order. In the editorial's words: "The real danger is that neither Klima nor Schussel has dared to stand up against Haider's rhetoric."

Centrist parties often attract extreme voters, the editorial says, and one can assume that most EU states have governments that reflect a mix of conservative and social democratic values. Information concludes with these words: "The passivity of Klima and Schuessel should be a warning to their counterparts across the EU, because the danger of Haider is present all over."

Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, commentator Reinhardt Olt also lays much of the blame for Haider's gains on Klima's failures. As Olt puts it: "Neither the Social Democrats nor the People's Party realized the serious consequences of the demise of the grand coalition. Meanwhile the rise of Haider and the Freedom Party reached a political power that nobody else could overtake."

He says People's Party leader Wolfgang Schuessel must decide whether, in Olt's words, "the People's Party will free itself from its self-made chains," or whether it will chain itself further and thus ease a return to power of the Social Democrats.