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Western Press Review: Commentators View Terrorism, Other Issues

  • Don Hill



Prague, 23 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen observes that the century is going out as it came in -- confronting terrorism. Other Western commentators take up this issue, but press commentary today spreads generally over a variety of topics.

WASHINGTON POST: The 20th Century was the century of the common man

Cohen writes this: "To my mind, the 20th century really began with Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb and a member of a secret society, the Black Hand. On June 28, 1914, he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and his wife, Sophie. 'Es ist nichts (It is nothing),' the archduke kept saying as he died. But he could not have been more wrong. His murder precipitated World War I."

Cohen writes approvingly of honoring the greats of the last hundred years, but really, he says, the 20th Century was the century of the common man -- the American GI (foot soldier) of World War Two, the unknown man who stood in front of tanks near Tiananmen Square, and even the Serb assassin, Princip.

As Cohen puts it: "It was also ordinary men who... murdered the Jews of Europe... killed John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, the Gandhis in India and Yitzhak Rabin in Israel. Each and every act changed history -- and the terrorist knew it."

Terror isn't unique to the 20th Century, Cohen concedes, but he contends that it is more common. The columnist concludes this way: "So the century ends with a furrowed brow. We are concerned, we are worried. We are learning the difference between terrified and terrorized -- between a passing fright and one that lingers. New Year's plans are being changed, a concession to terrorism right there. The common person, hero of the century and parents to us all, recognizes his enemy. It is the common person."

NEW YORK TIMES: This was free advertising for anti-American terrorists

Reuel Marc Gerecht, former Middle Eastern specialist in the Central Intelligence Agency, writes in a commentary contributed to The New York Times that the United States is abetting terrorism when it publicizes terrorism's threat. That kind of free advertising is just what terrorists seek, the writer says.

As Gerecht puts it: "What in the world [was] the Clinton administration doing with its bulletins from the State Department earlier this week warning American citizens around the world about possible attacks during the holiday season. This was free advertising for anti-American terrorists, feeding perceptions that the Middle East's holy warriors have scared the United States."

The writer says that the State Department's policy of detailed, dispassionate assessments was overwhelmed by bureaucrats' need to shield themselves from conceivable future blame.

Gerecht writes this: "What the repeated recent State Department warnings may really reveal is that American intelligence on its own has little hard information about Islamic terrorism, in particular about Osama bin Laden. A general rule: If the public commentary surrounding a possible terrorist act is loud, actual information about the dangers is probably secondhand and scanty. Really good intelligence -- the rare type that saves lives -- is almost always delivered quietly."

In Gerecht's words: "The Clinton administration should understand that neither United States citizens nor foreign intelligence services are helped by Washington periodically screaming fire."

DIE WELT: The attempt for administrative reform was a disaster

Writing from Budapest, commentator Boris Kalnoky says in the German newspaper Die Welt that UN administrators have satisfied Kosovar-Albanians but enraged Kosovar-Serbs with their program for administrative reform in Kosovo. Kalnoky writes this: "UN officials tried for months to get all ethnic groups in the province to work together on an administrative council operating under the UN's aegis. But the attempt was a disaster which degenerated into a fiction."

Kalnoky writes that the Serbs perceive the plan as just another step in creating an independent Kosovo, which neither the U.S. nor the Serbs say they want. In Kalnoky's words: "The Serbs say they will cooperate with the UN administration only when UN officials negotiate with them over their demands for more Serbian ethnic enclaves enjoying administrative and territorial autonomy. But these demands are taboo with the United Nations, since the local Serbs' demands correspond to the Belgrade government's long-term goals of partitioning Kosovo."

The commentator says that Serb intransigence is a large problem in Kosovo, but that the biggest problem is the unresolved question of "who speaks for the Albanians." As Kalnoky puts it: "[Is it] their elected president, Ibrahim Rugova? Or the non-recognized government of the old Kosovo Liberation Army leader, Hashim Thaci? Or a group of people, under UN supervision? Thaci, suspected all along by the United Nations of being set on Kosovo's independence, has accepted the new arrangement."

Kalnoky quotes Thaci as saying this: "There is no longer any President Rugova or Prime Minister Thaci, but a new four-member leadership." Kalnoky writes in his words: "In fact, it is a troika. Another contradiction came immediately from Rugova, who insisted that he is still the president."

TIMES: Too often the fault lies with the post-communist leaders

Commentaries today in The Times of London and in the International Herald Tribune discuss the fall of Romanian communist dictator Nicole Ceausescu ten years ago. In the words of an editorial in The Times: "The Romanian dictator had ordered the crowd to demonstrate its loyalty. But as the jeers reached him, his expression -- captured tellingly on television -- changed. The Genius of the Carpathians knew, after 24 years of megalomaniacal rule, that it was all over."

The dictator and his wife Elena fled by helicopter. Their one-time sheeplike followers quickly captured, tried and executed them. Grisly pictures recorded the last and bloodiest chapter in the collapse of communism in Europe ten years ago.

But, as the British newspaper puts it: "Now they are laying flowers on his grave. Pensioners reminisce about full employment, cheap food, medical care and subsidized holidays. Nostalgia for the Ceausescu years has erased the memory of the shortages, Securitate repression, abandoned orphans, bulldozed villages and the 1,000 demonstrators killed in the struggle for freedom."

The Times reports incredulously that 61 per cent of Romanians tell poll interviewers that they would be better off under Ceausescu. And, says the editorial, in its words: "Romania is not the only former communist country where people look back in error. In Russia they laid flowers on Stalin's grave to mark the 120th anniversary of his birth; the memory of the monster softens as the reality is ever more distant. In East Germany, despite [thousands of millions of marks] poured in to transform the landscape and create opportunities unimaginable in the Stasi State, millions still long for the coziness and even corruption of the old GDR."

The newspaper says bluntly: "Too often the fault lies with the post-communist leaders. In the race to the market, liberty has turned to license, capitalism has become criminality, security and social concern have been discarded along with socialism."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: In next year's elections, millions of Romanians are likely to stay home or vote for extremists

Author and Balkan specialist Tom Gallagher says in the International Herald Tribune that most Romanians are not celebrating the anniversary week of the uprising against Ceausescu. Gallagher writes this in a commentary: "In next year's elections, millions of Romanians are likely to stay home or vote for extremists." That, says Gallagher, would be Ceausescu's ultimate revenge.

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