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Western Press Review: EU Countries React To Haider

  • Don Hill



Prague, 7 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary of Austria's far-right politician Joerg Haider continues, but now has metamorphosed into a lively discussion about Europe's reaction to Haider entry into government.

TIMES: European leaders began to squawk

From London Sunday, an editorial in The Times derided Europe's response to the new Austrian government that includes Haider's Freedom Party. In the words of the editorial: "The Great and the Good in Brussels have been choking on their apfelstrudel ever since Joerg Haider's Freedom Party joined Austria's new coalition government. As the populist rightwinger teamed up with the conservative People's Party to end the fossilized socialist-conservative alliance that has dominated Austrian politics since the war, European leaders began to squawk."

The newspaper headlined its editorial, "He's Found a Nice Way of Saying Sieg Heil." The headline was characterizing Haider, going on to say this of the nationalist leader: "Haider's policies may be chameleon-like, in the modern fashion, but in staid, edelweiss-nice Austria he has arrived like an icy blast from the Alps. During the last election campaign, the chain-smoking Chancellor Viktor Klima was carried off to hospital with pneumonia and the finance minister suffered a circulatory collapse after debating with super-fit Haider. In Haider's office there is a picture of him standing next to his, [in Haider's term], 'good friend' Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian muscle-man-turned-actor."

Having satirized both Haider and his European critics, the editorial concluded with this warning to the West: "Perhaps the EU mandarins fretting over Haider's elevation should remember that when Kurt Waldheim was vilified for not revealing as president his appalling war record, the chorus of international indignation only served to make him more popular among Austrians. If tomorrow belongs to Haider, the rest of Europe may have to get used to it."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The Austrian public remains deeply divided

An analysis in today's Christian Science Monitor, published in the United States, says that Austrians are having as much trouble swallowing Haider as is the rest of Europe. Analyst Sonya Yee writes this from Vienna: "Austria continues the difficult process of settling in with the controversial new conservative coalition brokered by far-right politician Joerg Haider. The Austrian public remains deeply divided over the new government."

Yee quotes Haider as saying in a TV interview that he hopes to avoid personally inflaming Austrian opinion. In Haider's words, "I would be a fool if I ruined this historical success, this change brought about by the Freedom Party in Austria, by constantly launching cross-fire from Carinthia." Haider is governor of the southern Austrian Carinthia province.

Yee writes: "The governments most opposed to Haider, France and Belgium, are the most worried about the growing power of far-right movements in their territories." She adds: "Austrian Liberal Forum Party leader Heide Schmidt points out that the danger of Haider is taken far more seriously abroad than at home, suggesting that long-term exposure has led to a dangerous complacency in Austria."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Denouncing Haider represents a big change and a big risk

The International Herald Tribune publishes a commentary by Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland agreeing that Europe's strong reaction to Austria's rightward shift is risky, but, Hoagland says, it also is correct. He writes this: "The European Union's swift decision to intervene in the politics of Austria last week by denouncing that country's far-right party represents a big change and a big risk. But history and the current shape of European politics make it a risk that cannot be shirked. History is politics in Europe. Ghosts linger in the chanceries of the Old Continent, where the wise wonder if the horrors of the past could ever happen again."

Hoagland writes: "Austria does not so wonder, for a simple reason: For most Austrians the past never happened. They have constructed an imaginary history in which Austrians were the victims of a Nazi German invasion rather than Hitler's willing henchmen. Having repressed their history, Austrians are condemned to have it erupt into their lives periodically."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Both NATO and the EU need to heed genuine concerns

In an editorial, the Financial Times takes on another topic, what it calls "Atlantic Drift." In an editorial, the newspaper says that NATO is in a stage of internal disarray that could if unchecked, in the newspaper's phrase, "lead to decoupling." As the editorial puts it: "The United States is pressing ahead with plans for a national missile defense scheme." And, says the newspaper, "The Europeans are intent on building a full defense pillar under the umbrella of the European Union. Each views the other's plan with mixed feelings, bordering on hostility. Both sides need to heed genuine concerns, or the alliance itself could be weakened."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Only Germany remains dozing in security policies

Today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung agrees there's a problem and blames Germany's military leader for dozing through it. The newspaper says that German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping should distribute a videotape of this weekend's security conference, at which the US defense secretary criticized Germany's small defense budget.

In an editorial, the newspaper says this: "The political elite and besides this the whole country could learn the following from the discussion: NATO and the EU have drawn lessons from Kosovo. Only Germany remains dozing in security policies. There is going to be a shocking awaking when discussions concerning the army are due in the spring. For a considerable time, foreign and security policies have ceased to be on the political top-ten list in Germany. This has caused a gap between the security policy plans in NATO and the EU on the one hand and the visions of German policy on the other hand."

The editorial continues: "The magnanimity employed by the federal government in supporting a new European security policy is not reflected in the budget. And the placid way army reforms have been in the process of preparation for a very long time conflicts with the tempo with which the EU -- with the concurrence of the [German] government -- launched the security policies."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Moscow should negotiate peace now

From Denmark, Berlingske Tidende says in an editorial that the Russians aren't doing so well militarily, either. They have won a big battle in Chechnya but their war stretches onward. The editorial says this: "[A] statement by the [Russian] general staff that the fighting will continue in the southern mountainous provinces of the [Chechen] republic is a confirmation as well as an acknowledgment that the impending hostilities will be long-lasting, of the guerrilla-type, and largely on the Chechen rebels' terms."

In the words of the editorial: "Moscow now should do what had to be done a long time ago: get in contact with the rebels and try to negotiate peace with them before the breakaway republic is completely destroyed." In effect, the newspaper suggests, don't hold your breath. As the editorial understates the case: "The chances of such a development are not very high."

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



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