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Western Press Review: Kohl Affair Excites Comment

  • Don Hill

Prague, 20 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The travails of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl and his scandal-plagued Christian Democratic Union party excite worldwide commentary.

NEW YORK TIMES: Kohl is defiantly flouting his legal obligation

The New York Times says that Kohl is, in the words of the newspaper's editorial, "defiantly flouting his legal obligation to reveal the names of donors to a secret campaign fund." By so doing, as the editorial puts it, "Mr. Kohl compounds the damage he has already caused." The New York Times views the German scandal from a U.S. -- but also a global -- perspective. It says this: "The Kohl affair is a reminder that the United States is not the only advanced democracy where the insatiable demands of campaign finance threaten to undermine democracy. Since the reckless fund-raising of the 1996 American presidential campaign, France, Spain, Italy and Britain have all been rocked by fund-raising scandals."

In the words of the editorial: "If Mr. Kohl is to salvage his diminished reputation -- and his party's -- he should disclose what he knows."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: The CDU systematically broke the law

In Denmark, the daily Berlingske Tidende calls Kohl in an editorial, "the man who has been hailed as one of the chief architects of New Europe." The editorial says that Kohl's behavior induced his associates to cast him into what the newspaper calls "ignominy." Berlingske Tidende says also that Kohl evidently did not act alone. As the editorial puts it: "It has become clear that the CDU did not only commit minor iniquities but systematically broke the law in many years. It is impossible that such crimes went without the blessing or at least the toleration of the senior party leaders."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Kohl's reputation in Poland will remain intact

From Warsaw, Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Thomas Urban says that Poles -- who he says are avid Germany watchers -- are sympathetic to Kohl's plight. Urban says the people of Poland are more moved by Kohl's record of support for Poland than by any financial scandal surrounding him. Urban writes this: "As long as Kohl's guilt remains unproven before a court of law, his reputation in Poland will remain intact. The chancellor of the University of Wroclaw took particular pleasure last week in conferring an honorary doctorate on the former German chancellor." Urban quotes the educator as saying this: "The discussions in Germany in no way alter what he has done for Poland and Europe."

The writer cites a number of examples from the Polish press. Urban says that a columnist in the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza calls the scandal "hysteria" because, the columnist said, Kohl is not accused of having personally gained. Urban quotes the weekly Polityka as referring to what it calls the "personal drama" of a "grand statesman."

Here are three excerpts from other European press commentary:

NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG: Every new revelation will inflict additional damage on CDU's image

Neue Zuercher Zeitung, Zurich -- "The only matter at stake is whether the CDU is an organism capable of renewal or not. Considering the resolutions adopted by the meeting, this can hardly be expected in the near future. On the contrary, the party must reckon with the fact that every new revelation about the financial machinations under Kohl and Kanther will inflict additional damage on its image."

DER STANDAARD: We are dealing with a system

Der Standaard, Brussels -- "The dwarfs for once were strong enough to point a small fist at the giant Helmut Kohl, who reunited Germany and propelled the party for a quarter of a century. ... The claim that the matters of concern are isolated cases is by far untenable. We are dealing with a system. And it seems that the CDU is incapable of bringing this matter to an end and thoroughly cleansing itself."

LA STAMPA: Kohl himself did not enrich himself

La Stampa, Rome -- "Kohl has been deserted by his party. He feels betrayed, understandably. In his defense there remains the pure conviction that he himself did not enrich himself, as well as the naive style of his declarations. The dark side of the politics of an honorable man, who has saved his country several times over by ignoring the opinions of his countrymen. In a few years to come we will recall his personality as a great and weak man who made history. A man of his age, but this age has come to an end."

The Wall Street Journal Europe and The Washington Post carry comment on the records of two other world leaders.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Clinton continues to be a formidable force on the American political scene

A Wall Street Journal Europe analysis by Albert R. Hunt says that U.S. President Bill Clinton, in the analyst's words, "continues to be a formidable force on the American political scene [as he prepares to give] his last State of the Union address." The writer says, "It is not improbable that in 2000, Mr. Clinton will pull off several major foreign policy successes, will continue to outmaneuver and embarrass Congressional Republicans, and provide crucial help for the Democrats (his party) in the election. This is the same guy (person) who, a year ago, was the first president in over 130 years to face a Senate impeachment trial."

WASHINGTON POST: Saddam Hussein is getting more time to build his arsenal

The Washington Post says in an editorial that Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein "does not feel sorry for provoking the Gulf War." The Post quotes from Saddam's speech of Monday commemorating what he called the beginning of that war. In the words of the editorial: "Saddam called upon his countrymen to put aside material need so that Iraq's resources could be devoted to fighting the nation's foul-smelling enemies. With rhetoric like that, Saddam Hussein makes the case for continued pressure on his regime as eloquently as his adversaries. And yet," the Washington Post continues, "at the United Nations this week, Russia, France and China have been doing their best to ensure that renewed weapons inspections in Iraq are delayed or ineffective. As a result, Saddam Hussein is getting more time to build his arsenal, and the United Nations is being weakened. Other rogues are learning that they can look to three permanent members of the UN Security Council to indulge such behavior as invading a neighbor state and threatening others with annihilation."

(Dora Slaba in Prague and Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contribute to this review.)