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Western Press Review: Germany, Serbia Commented On

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill

Prague, 12 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Lacking any single worldwide issue of broad interest, Western press commentators choose scattered topics for their opinion articles and analyses. Here's a broad sampling.

From the German press, which characteristically treats news from all of Europe as local news, here are short takes on German women soldiers, Serbia's opposition movement, and Turkey's death sentence on Kurdish leader Ocalan:

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The decision could change the way Germany peoples its military services

Christoph Schwennicke comments in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung on yesterday's European Court of Justice ruling that Germany must allow women soldiers to serve in combat units. The writer says the decision could change the way Germany peoples its military services. Schwennicke: "The issue under discussion [now] is whether the court decision will mean the end of Germany's compulsory military service for men, or whether it will usher in compulsory service for women."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Opposition leaders aimed at the preservation of a semblance of unified resistance

In the same newspaper, Bernhard Kueppers says the object of Monday's meeting in Serbia of political leaders opposed to the rule of Slobodan Milosevic was, in the writer's words, "to preserve at least the semblance of [unified] resistance." The group agreed on, as Kueppers put it, "a concerted effort to press their demands for early elections." The commentator writes this: "The March 9 date suggested by Draskovic for the joint rally was not, however, specifically agreed on. The timing of the proposal, for the veteran opposition leader at least, was crucial: [It was] on March 9, 1991, [that] Draskovic held the first of his big demonstrations against Milosevic."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Ocalan's fate now could put Ecevit's governing coalition in danger

From Ankara, Gerd Hoehler writes in the Frankfurter Rundschau that the arrest last year of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of a rebellious Kurdish faction, helped Turkey's Bulent Ecevit win the prime minister's post. The writer says Ocalan's fate now could put Ecevit's governing coalition in danger. As Hoehler puts it: "The death sentence handed down to Ocalan on the prison island of Imrali at the end of May has been final since January. [Today], the three coalition parties meet to agree upon a government line. An argument is already surfacing. While Premier Ecevit, as a declared opponent of the death sentence, has already argued against the execution, his deputy and leader of the right-wing Nationalist Action Party, Devlet Bahceli, is urging that Ocalan be hanged as quickly as possible."

AFTENPOSTEN: The German people have the impression that the Kohl system used Mafia methods

Norwegian commentary often reflects a mirror image of the German press' encompassing interest in Europe. In Norway, press opinion writers treat German issues as local concerns. The daily Aftenposten says in an editorial today that Germany is dealing with what the newspaper calls "a serious crisis of confidence in the country's still young political system." It is referring to the recent revelation by former German chancellor Helmut Kohl that his Christian Democratic Union used money from a secret fund. As Aftenposten's editorial puts it: "The impression that the German people have is that the Kohl system, which dominated German politics for almost a lifetime, used Mafia methods to finance itself."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:: Mr. Jiang could find an ally in the 14th Dalai Lama

The International Herald Tribune and, an exception to the local focus, goes beyond its usual emphasis on Europe to publish two expert commentators' views on developments in Tibetan Buddhism. Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, a former newspaper editor in India, says the apparent escape of Communist China's choice as Karmapa Lama to India -- hailed as an anti-China propaganda coup by many Western newspapers -- actually could be an opportunity for China's leadership. The Dalai Lama has dropped demands for Tibetan independence and has hinted he would accept a Hong Kong-like one-nation-two-systems approach for his homeland. Datta-Ray says the attention drawn by the Karmapa Lama gives President Jiang Zemin an opportunity. Datta-Ray writes this: "If Mr. Jiang could bring himself to rise to his predecessor's diplomatic stature, he would find an ally in the 14th Dalai Lama."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: China could not have sustained Karmapa Lama' s claim indefinitely

But Brahma Chellaney, professor of security studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, suggests in a second commentary that China's leaders may have arranged the whole drama in order to strengthen the claim of their choice for Karmapa Lama, and to position him as a potential future mole.

Chellaney writes: "Based in Tibet, [China's choice as Karmapa Lama] could not have sustained indefinitely his claim without securing the sect's all-powerful black hat, a symbol of power believed to be woven from the hairs of female deities. This crown is at the school's ancient Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, [a northeast Indian state adjacent to China]."

GUARDIAN: The image of a flag-draped coffin may have been enough to persuade Jack Straw to send the ailing dictator home

Commentary in the British press concentrates on the local-international case of Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, who medical experts have said is too ill to undergo trial in Spain. Jamie Wilson writes this in an analysis in The Guardian:

"The image of a Chilean military guard escorting [Pinochet's] flag-draped coffin across the tarmac of RAF Northolt to a waiting air force jet may, in the end, have been enough of a nightmare to persuade the [British] home secretary, Jack Straw, to send the ailing dictator home."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Straw's decision is likely to cause fury

Financial Times staff writer Andrew Parker says in an analysis that Straw's decision that Spain's extradition case can be dropped is, in Parker's words: "likely to cause fury among left-wing Labor members of Parliament, [coming as it does] before Sunday's presidential elections in Chile."

GUARDIAN: Jack Straw's timing could have been more sensitive

Guardian columnist Hugo Young agrees. As he puts it: "Jack Straw's timing could have had more sensitivity to Chilean politics. He might have waited."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Straw took a well-calculated political gamble

Financial Times commentator Jimmy Burns says Home Secretary Straw took, in Burns' phrase, "a well-calculated political gamble." Human rights activists and leftist Laborites will be disappointed and angry, Burns says, and the Spanish judge who initiated the extradition proceedings may protest against the decision. Burns then writes this: "But beyond this the reaction at home and abroad -- while likely to rumble on for days if not weeks -- probably will be relatively contained."