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Western Press Review: OSCE Summit, Chechnya Dominate Western Commentary

  • Don Hill

Prague, 18 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The leading topic for Western commentary is the OSCE summit in Istanbul. The leading topic at the summit is Chechnya.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: This will prove how far the OSCE is limping along behind its aspirations

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, commentator Patrick Illinger -- writing in Munich evidently before the fact -- dismisses the Istanbul gathering as, in his newspaper's phrase, a "Conference of Platitudes." Illinger puts it contemptuously: "This of all summits will prove yet again just how far the OSCE is limping along behind its aspirations and behind the hopes placed in it." In conclusion, the writer completes his dismissal. Illinger: "Nobody should expect any practical outcome from the summit, but views will have been exchanged; leaders will have met again. See you at the next summit, then -- in another place, another century, but with the same old problems."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Who knows what the Turkish organizers had in mind

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Wolfgang Koydl, writing in a commentary from Istanbul, says Turkish superstitions are working for and against the OSCE summit, which is meeting in a haunted hotel. Here's what Koydl says: "Who knows what the Turkish organizers had in mind, but they could surely not have chosen a more ominous venue [for the summit] than the Ciragan Palace Hotel on the banks of the Bosphorus. Superstitious people, of whom there are many in Istanbul, believe the building brings bad luck to anyone who stays there, because it was wantonly erected on the cemetery of an order of dervishes."

Several terrible events strengthened these fears, the writer says, but he perceives a found pin behind the broken mirror. Koydl: "Even Turgut Ozal, the prime minister of the day, seems to have thought there might be something funny about the place. Local people insist that he had several dervish graves shifted from the cursed site before works began on the luxury hotel now housed in the erstwhile palace. There seems to be something in this story, because nothing spooky has happened to any guest within its walls since then."

TIMES: Russia's critics now have the chance of disapproving in unison

From London, The Times contends that, in the phrasing of its editorial on the OSCE and Chechnya, "There are real levers to make Russia see sense in Chechnya." Of the OSCE, the newspaper writes this: "Russia's critics now have the chance of disapproving in unison. America and the European Union already have condemned, separately, Russia's disproportionate use of violence against civilians."

The editorial observes that feelings are running high, but that Western nations have another option than choosing between the extremes of mere strong words or threatening Russia with destabilization through punitive sanctions. As The Times puts it: "Between the two undesirable extremes of acquiescing in a Russian military campaign that targets civilians or of threatening Russia with destabilizing reprisals in protection of those civilians, a whole spectrum of possible responses exists. One might be to turn off temporarily the tap of IMF funding.

"Bilateral cooperation, loans and aid, could also be suspended pending a ceasefire; so could Russia's membership in the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog. These measures would not be unduly punitive; all would underscore the lesson that the price of Russia's current membership of the various clubs of democratic nations is that it must obey the rules like everyone else."

BOSTON GLOBE: Clinton should press hard for a ceasefire in Chechnya

From the northeast United States, The Boston Globe urges in its morning edition an action that U.S President Bill Clinton took later in the day. The Globe says, in its words, "The specter of Russia's savage assault on Chechnya hovers," over the OSCE meeting. The newspaper says, as its editorial puts it: "Clinton should press hard for a ceasefire in Chechnya and offer international mediation to address Russian concerns about terrorism and criminal gangs. He should also make it plain that Russia has no chance at its goal of becoming a normal country as long as Yeltsin emulates the aggressive behavior of his predecessors."

LIBERATION: The effect of the current war will be greater than in the first Chechen conflict

Under the title "The Kremlin's Mad War," the French daily Liberation writes that, in its phrase, "the unimaginable is taking place." Liberation's editorial then says this: "For the second time, the Russian government is waging a war of destruction in Chechnya. And this time, as in 1994 to 1996, it has nothing to gain from the conflict -- except the taste of scorched earth in the North Caucasus." The editorial adds that the effect of the current war will be greater than in the first Chechen conflict. That's because, Liberation contends, Chechnya's neighboring republics, Dagestan and Ingushetia, are directly affected by the conflict and already show signs of destabilization.

WASHINGTON POST: The UN member states need to shove neutrality

On a different topic, The Washington Post finds praise for the United Nations for, as the newspaper phrases it, "accepting its share of the blame" for the massacre at Srebrinica during the Bosnia war. In the words of an editorial, the newspaper says: "The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, should be commended for this stark admission. The question, however, is whether his honesty will spur bolder peacekeeping in the future."

The Washington Post says that the UN often is set up in advance for failure. As the editorial puts it: "Sometimes the United Nations' failure is built into its structure. Where a permanent member of the Security Council opposes intervention, no action will be authorized: Hence the United Nations' current silence about Russia's war crimes in Chechnya, and its early impotence on Kosovo. But in cases where the council does approve action, it is fair to insist that it be serious. The UN member states need to embrace force to secure peace; they need to shove neutrality."