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Western Press Review: Commentaries Touch On Diverse Issues

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill



Prague, 27 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press scatters its international commentary today, with no single issue drawing wide attention.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Ukraine could cease to be a viable state

The Wall Street Journal Europe looks ahead in an editorial to Ukraine's elections at the end of the month. The editorial expresses anxiety and disapproval. The anxiety is that President Leonid Kuchma might go down to defeat and, in the newspaper's words, "Ukraine could cease to be a viable state." Despite Kuchma's five consecutive years of failures, the editorial says, none of his challengers offers grounds for optimism.

The Wall Street Journal's ire is directed at U.S. and Western foreign policy. As the editorial puts it: "This ought to be a topic of concern among Western policymakers. That it is, not should be, a topic of even greater concern for the rest of us."

The newspaper concludes its editorial with this: "This is more or less the policy that got us to where we are now: throw money at Ukraine in recognition of its strategic importance, even if that helps sustain a governing establishment, including parliament, that seems mostly intent on hanging on to its power and perquisites. It's a shame that the Western powers have done so little to encourage serious reform in one of Europe's largest states."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Blair and Chirac received Jiang at the cost of betraying principles

In a separate editorial, the Wall Street Journal Europe scolds British authorities for subduing protest and pandering to visiting Chinese President Jiang Zemin's distaste for dissent. Here's how the newspaper puts it: "The leader was in town, and he doesn't like dissent. So a man unveiling a protest flag was wrestled to the ground by five state security men and promptly hauled away. Elsewhere, police confiscated banners and deliberately placed vans to keep demonstrators out of the leader's line of sight. Even museum exhibits were rearranged to hide offending articles from his view. It should be no surprise that the leader in question was (Jiang). But it surprises a lot of people that the town in question was London, one of the premier capitals of what's usually considered the" -- and here the editorial uses ironic quotation marks -- "Free World."

The editorial says France also used arrests and other devices to protect Jiang's feelings by stifling free expression. The newspaper concluded with a snap, in its words: "Should Messrs. Blair and Chirac have received Mr. Jiang? Sure. But not at the cost of betraying principles that are the bedrock of Western civilization."

INFORMATION: The clock of the waning credibility of the Kremlin again is ticking

The newspaper Information in Denmark says editorially today that Russia has ignored any political approaches to its Chechen problem since the bombs stopped falling in the first Chechen war in 1996. Now, as the editorial puts it: "The clock of the waning credibility of the Kremlin [again] is ticking."

Information says that when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talks of the need to negotiate with the Chechens, he leaves the most obvious question unaddressed. That is, in the editorial's words "why such negotiations have so far failed to materialize."

The newspaper puts it this way: "The fact that Russia has failed even to make a proposal about what to do in Chechnya does not help anyone. On the contrary, Moscow's military intervention has increased the instability to such a degree that it now threatens to spin out of control."

WASHINGTON POST: Keep the edge on sanctions by fitting them to new circumstances

Turning to Yugoslavia, the Washington Post calls in an editorial for -- in the Post's word -- "testing" the easing of sanctions against Serbia. There is a debate, the editorial says, over whether there will be a heating crisis in Serbia this winter. The Washington Post sides with those who fear there will be.

In the editorial's words: "While there was a hope that (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic would not survive humiliation in Kosovo, the restrictions made sense. But with that hope fading, the rationale for sanctions shifts to driving the people to revolt, and this becomes harder for humane democratic countries to sustain."

The newspaper contends this: "The purpose now should be to keep the edge on sanctions by fitting them to new circumstances. That means where possible targeting pressures on the regime, not the people at large, for instance, by restricting the international travel of regime figures and by rewarding the opposition for its local political successes with heating oil."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The government is likely to satisfy the vast majority of Indonesians

Indonesia's new government was the subject of news analyses in the New York Times and in several German newspapers. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung headlines a commentary from Singapore by Andreas Baenziger, "Wahid's Masterstroke." Baenziger writes that Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid necessarily compromised in appointing his new government yesterday.

As the German writer puts it: "After all, he had been elected to office with the help of the votes of the Islamist camp and of the Golkar Party of his predecessors, Presidents Suharto and (B. J.) Habibie."

But, Baenziger writes: "The list of ministers' names is by no means a betrayal of the will of the voters, who voted for reforms and an end to the Suharto era. On the contrary, the new president has managed to put together a government which is likely to satisfy the vast majority of Indonesians."

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's commentary says approvingly that Wahid's compromise government seems designed to heal what Baenziger calls "the deep wounds wrought by the Suharto era." The writer concludes with this: "At the same time, Wahid mapped out his course -- towards reform and democracy."

The New York Times' Seth Mydans (male), in Jakarta, evidently concurs. He writes that Wahid moved, in Mydans's phrase, "like a political conjurer to produce a cabinet." Mydans writes: "(It) satisfied a dazzling range of constituencies in this fractured country while lowering the profile of the military and addressing the immediate need for stability."

NEW YORK TIMES: President Abdurrahman Wahid made striking moves

The New York Times correspondent adds this: "In his most striking move, President Abdurrahman Wahid named a civilian as defense minister and shifted command of the armed forces from the politically aggressive and tainted army to the navy."

DIE WELT: Khatami is undertaking cautious steps towards rapprochement

The Iranian president travels to Paris today, and Evangelos Antonaros writes from Tehran in Germany's Die Welt that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had to overcome a number of cultural problems to do so. In Antonaros's words: "For his part, the politically isolated man from Tehran is hoping to entrance the outside world by cautious steps towards rapprochement."

Die Welt's writer observes that Khatami became the first Iranian head of state since the Islamic Revolution to set foot in the West by visiting Italy and the Vatican. In Antonaros's words: "Iran expects much from a strengthening of relations with Western Europe."

Antonaros adds this: "But it would be wrong to think that Iran's largely remolded foreign policy is geared exclusively to the West. In fact, Khatami and Kamal Kharrazi, his foreign minister, are expending most of their energies on defusing conflicts with Iran's closest neighbors. Progress has already been made with Saudi Arabia, leading some other Gulf states still involved in territorial disputes with Iran -- chief among them the United Arab Emirates - to feel decidedly left out."

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