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Western Press Review: Commentary Covers An Array Of Issues

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill

Prague, 25 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- With no one major news story to bunch Western commentary into one feeding ground, press commentators browsed widely today and over the weekend. Russia drew several discussions.

NEW YORK TIMES: You need a whole different group of people at the top in Russia

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote Sunday, in his words: "The most important story out of Russia last week was buried in the business pages: Russia's top stock-market watchdog quit after declaring that Boris Yeltsin's government was simply not interested in enforcing laws to protect shareholders in Russia."

Friedman consulted Bill Lewis, who heads the McKinsey consulting firm's Global Institute and has just completed an extensive study of the Russian economy. Lewis told him this: "To start with, you need a whole different group of people at the top in Russia." The columnist says Lewis told him that Russian leadership is so corrupt and arbitrary that inefficient firms get subsidized and efficient ones get squelched.

WASHINGTON POST: Russia's campaign in Chechnya is a crime against humanity

In an editorial Sunday, the Washington Post condemned Russia's campaign in Chechnya. The Post put it this way: "It is understandable, too, that Russian officials want to hold their country together. But the only apparent strategy of this latest war is to kill many Chechens and force many more to flee. Officials count at least 170,000 refugees having crossed one border alone, almost certainly an understatement. This is not an 'anti-terrorist operation,' as the Russian government maintains, but a crime against humanity."

AFTENPOSTEN: Russia has broken international conventions

Norway's Aftenposten also criticizes the Russian Chechen campaign, saying in an editorial today: "Russia has broken the international conventions about the conduct of warfare against civilians, and it does Moscow little good to try to hide itself under the formal pretext that the Geneva convention is not applicable in this case as no formal war has been declared." The newspaper says Russia was moved to action by unstable conditions that it helped bring about. Aftenposten concludes with these words: "Moscow has now begun a new invasion, which will cost (the equivalent of $100 billion) and which will inflict new sufferings on the Chechen people."

WASHINGTON POST: The implications of population declines affect Russian policy in a number of ways

Georgetown University research scholar Murray Feshbach contributed an essay to the Washington Post Sunday contending that Russia's population is dropping as its death rate rises. The result could be a decline in population from 138 million in the mid-1990s to as low as 80 million by the mid-21st century.

Feshbach wrote this: "The implications of such population declines for the labor force, armed forces and Russian society as a whole are enormous, and affect Russian policy in a number of ways. With the population declining at such rates, the health of each individual at the margin becomes even more important. With fewer children being born, reproductive health of their mothers is the key to healthy children."

Unfortunately, the researcher said, malnutrition, disease, and poor prenatal conditions also are creating a multi-generation of weakened, sick, and stunted Russians.

WASHINGTON POST: The only hope is for ethnic Albanians to discredit primitive attitudes

Writing today in the Washington Post, Anna Husarska, of the Center d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales in Paris, says a new witch hunt is under way in Kosovo. In Husarska's words: "There is little doubt about the ethnicity of the perpetrators in Kosovo, or about their motive -- to chase non-Albanians out of the province. It may be unrealistic to try to protect every non-Albanian and expatriate in Kosovo. In fact, the only hope is for ethnic Albanians to discredit these primitive attitudes and criminal acts."

TIMES: The EU is not perceived as an honest broker in Israel

The Times of London notes in an editorial today that Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has begun his second official visit to Israel and that his stated purpose is to determine what role there might be for the European Union in working for Mideast peace. The Times find this mission dubious.

The editorial says this: "The EU is not, and with reason, perceived as an honest broker in Israel. It has frequently undermined the painstaking efforts of the Americans. There is absolutely no need for a common European position on exactly what proportion of the West Bank should ultimately rest under Israeli or Palestinian administration."

The editorial says, however, that a useful role for Britain itself is evident. That is as what the Times calls "a back channel for Israeli-Palestinian deliberations, a place for private discussion when, for local political reasons, public discourse is difficult."

The editorial says that Prime Minister Tony Blair holds prestige with both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and should use it by, as the editorial put it, "speaking softly and making stately homes discreetly available whenever that might prove helpful."

BOSTON GLOBE: Putting parts of Hitler's bunker on display would serve no purpose

The U.S. newspaper Boston Globe observed in an editorial yesterday that Berlin construction workers accidentally dug up part of Adolf Hitler's bunker last week. The newspaper commented approvingly that Berlin officials told the building crew to cover up the 20-foot slab of concrete that was the roof of the old Fuehrerbunker and keep on with their roadwork.

As the newspaper put it: "No one should forget why the concrete is there, just as no one should forget the evil that Hitler unleashed upon the world. (But) putting parts of his bunker on display, or excavating whatever might still be found in the dust of the bombproof strongholds Hitler built for himself and his associates, would serve no purpose other than feeding morbid curiosities. Such a display might also attract neo-Nazi groups and become a rallying place for racist violence."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The international community should show understanding toward Pakistan

In the International Herald Tribune today, Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea Tariq Osman Hyder, writes in defense of the military coup that overturned his country's government just over two weeks ago. He says unprecedented, undemocratic, and corrupt behavior by the former government and its leader instigated the military action. Pakistan's military is selected on merit from all over the country, Hyder says, and traditionally has been a nationally unifying force.

The ambassador writes this: "The international community should show understanding toward Pakistan during its present phase, secure in the expectation that it will lead to a truly democratic nation."