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Western Press Review: Commentators Fish For Topics

  • Don Hill



Prague, 26 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Fishing for topics today, Western press commentary casts a wide net. Two prominent U.S. newspapers discuss the controversy over a Cuban child in the United States. German commentary finds national concerns as close as Croatia and Russia and as distant as China. British press opinion concerns global economic inequality and a divided Europe. From Denmark comes a blast at Iranian notions of fair elections, and from Greece a backhanded defense of Helmut Kohl.

WASHINGTON POST: A child is better off with a loving father

The Washington Post denounces virtually everyone involved in the case of Elian Gonzalez, the little Cuban boy who was stranded when his mother died while bringing him to asylum in the United States. The U.S. government initially found that the child should be returned to Cuba, where his father lives. But officials in Miami, Florida, where many Cuban exiles live, contends that the child should stay with other relatives in the United States.

The Post's editorial says this: "Grown-ups purporting to speak for the 6-year-old have sounded depressingly like 6-year-olds themselves." The newspaper goes on: "The Cuban government and Miami exile community both have been milking the issue for political points while piously accusing the other of doing the same. Congress now would compound the irresponsibility by seeking to confer citizenship upon the boy. All profess to be acting on Elian's behalf while adding to a political tangle that cannot be helpful to him."

In the editorial's words: "The idea of sending anyone back into a dictatorship is painful. But a child is better off with a loving father, even in a tyranny, than parentless in a democracy."

NEW YORK TIMES: Politics emulate a totalitarian ideal

An editorial in The New York Times condemns especially two members of the U.S. Congress from Florida who, the paper says, want to turn the case into a political game in a campaign years. As the editorial puts it: "Congressional moves this week to have Elian declared an American citizen have added a new level of exploitation to this unseemly saga. [It is] an unacceptable misuse of a citizenship process to manipulate the venue of a court case."

The editorial continues: "[Cuban President Fidel Castro's] opponents in Miami and their backers in Washington are subverting uncontested family ties in the interest of an all-consuming political agenda. They assume that the nature of one's government is the only criterion in the quality of his life. In so doing they emulate the totalitarian ideal that they correctly abhor."

DIE WELT: The presidential election will not be a clean fight

German commentator Boris Kalnoky in Budapest writes in the German newspaper Die Welt that the presidential election in Croatia holds promise for democratic improvement there. But, says Kalnoky, there are danger signs.

Kalnoky: "It looks as though good times are just around the corner in Croatia. A new and more democratic leadership, a more civilized body politic and, above all, a more Western-oriented atmosphere -- these are the changes which were promised by the new government in the wake of their election victory on January 3."

However, the commentator adds this: "The man set to become head of state is Stipe Mesic, leader of the Croatian People's Party and president of the Yugoslav Federation at the time of its fragmentation almost 10 years ago. Mesic himself is a bit of a right-wing rabble-rouser, whose effect is already making itself felt."

Kalnoky writes that Mesic, speaking at a press conference on Monday, had a message for those he called "journalists and generals." Kalnoky quotes the ordinarily jovial Mesic as saying that if journalists and generals oppose him, they will -- in Mesic's words -- "come to feel the consequences."

The Die Welt writer puts it this way: "The outburst had its reasons: Last week Slobodna Dalmatia had published documents which supposedly exposed Mesic as a former agent of the Yugoslav security service, Ubda." Kalnoky says the documents, given to several newspapers, evidently originated in army circles. Of the presidential runoff election, the commentator says this: "Some things are clear already, though, and judging by the ancient animosities being dredged up so far, it will not be a clean fight."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Russia might see itself forced to increase its nuclear potential

Basing his comments on reports from unnamed sources, commentator Pierre Simonitsch writes in the Frankfurter Rundschau that -- by pursuing an expensive and possibly fruitless quest for a missile-defense capability -- the United States may be jeopardizing Russian willingness to disarm. Simonitsch says this: "Russia is apparently ready to cut back the number of its strategic nuclear warheads from a current figure of almost 4,000 to 1,500, provided the United States drops its plans for a national missile-defense system. Russian sources say the offer came after secret talks between the two powers were held in Geneva."

The commentator writes: "Tying in for the main with Washington's ideas, the Kremlin now is proposing discussions be held soon on further cuts -- to be called START Three -- involving 1,500 warheads on both sides. However, the United States still is refusing to accept Moscow's demand that it cast aside its ambitious plans for its National Missile Defense system."

The Frankfurter Rundschau commentator echoes the often-expressed Kremlin view that, as Simonitsch puts it, "If the United States does realize its national missile-defense system, that would not only make the START Three proposals pointless but would also endanger the implementation of START One and START Two. Russia might then see itself forced to increase its nuclear potential."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Schumacher discloses a quiet deal between Germany and China

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Oliver Schumacher looks at the leadership of the IMF, International Monetary Fund. Also citing unnamed sources, Schumacher discloses what he says is a quiet deal between Germany and China to ease the path of Caio Koch-Weser, undersecretary in the German Finance Ministry, into the job of IMF managing director. China will support Koch-Weser in exchange for Germany's backing of Chinese entry into the World Trade Organization, the writer says. He says the United States and France are dubious about Koch-Weser as IMF head.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Economic opportunities should become available to all

Martin Wolf, columnist for Britain's Financial Times, writes that the most pleasurable thing that could happen in the coming century would be, in his words, "that the economic opportunities now available to a small proportion of humanity would become available to all." He decries growing inequality among nations.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The West should overcome the legacy of a divided Europe

In the Daily Telegraph, London, an editorial concurs with Portuguese officials and others who call for the West to, in the editorial's words, "overcome the legacy of a divided Europe bequeathed by the Cold War." But the newspaper says it is perplexed by Portugal's plea for a new -- it puts this word in quotation marks -- "flexibility." Is flexibility a code, the editorial asks, for what the Telegraph calls "a new treaty establishing a federation of nation states to discriminate against those outside?"

TO VIMA: Kohl's countrymen should lynch the rules of political life



Greek columnist Richardos Someritis wrote yesterday in To Vima, in his words: "The Germans are trying to destroy Helmut Kohl, who is now almost a pensioner. He is the politician who reunited Germany. With Mitterand he gave new hope to the European Union: Who doesn't miss [those two] today on the gray European political stage?" The writer says that Germany should reform and enforce the political rules for all parties and institutions instead of making a symbolic target of its great former chancellor. Instead, Someritis says, as he puts it, "Kohl's ungrateful countrymen are lynching him, when they should instead lynch the rules of political life."

INFORMATION: This is a clear violations of freedom of speech

Denmark's daily Information comments disapprovingly on Iran's preparation for its February 18 parliamentary election. Candidates must pass theological inspection by a body called the Guards' Council, and many are rejected for being insufficiently Muslim. Information says: "In addition to the clear violations of freedom of speech, this is supposed to be a part of the Iranian type of democracy." Even so, the newspaper says, Iran's efforts to seek democratic progress, if not perfection, are heartening.

(Alexis Papasotiriou and Anthony Georgieff contributed to this report.)



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