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Western Press Review: Commentary Checks Off Standing Issues

  • Don Hill

Prague, 17 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A review of Western press commentary today looks like a review of the live issues of the last few weeks -- cyanide in the Tisza-Danube, Austria's Haider, enlarging and managing the EU, Pinochet, Iran-U.S. relations, and German post-scandal politics. Here's a sampling:

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Unlike the Chornobyl catastrophe it is possible to take precautions against the flood of cyanide

Commentator Wolfgang Roth writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the cyanide spill in the Tisza river now flowing inexorably toward the Danube, environmentally awful as it is, should not be equated with Chornobyl. As Roth puts it: "There was virtually no escape from the radioactive clouds (of) 1986." "By contrast," Roth writes, in his words, "it is possible to take precautions to protect against the flood of cyanide stemming from the Romanian town of Baia."

NEWSWEEK: Carinthia couldn't be prouder of the local boy made good

Joshua Hammer writes in Newsweek's current International Edition (February 14) that the Social Democrats in Klagenfurt, political home of Austrian politician Joerg Haider, are circulating fliers with the legend, "Carinthia is not Haiderland." But Hammer says he isn't so sure. In the Newsweek writer's words: "The rest of Europe still was grumbling about Haider last week as his party officially joined the government and demonstrators still filled the streets of Vienna, Salzburg and other Austrian cities. But in Carinthia, Haider's stronghold in the mountainous southeast corner of Austria, many citizens couldn't be prouder of the local boy made good."

TIMES: An EU decision-making apparatus will buckle under the strain of up to 28 countries

The Times of London says in an editorial that EU decision-making already is unwieldy and would grow more so in an enlarged union. Here's how the editorial words it: "Enlargement of the European Union is one of the few goals that almost all British politicians share. But it brings its problems too, problems that enthusiasts for enlargement all too often dislike to acknowledge. A decision-making apparatus designed for an EU of six members and already under serious strain will buckle under the strain of up to 28 countries. The (European) Commission will be too large; smaller countries will have disproportionate power; and, where unanimous assent is required, a tiny state such as Malta could veto an important reform."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Hypocrisy also plays a large part

A Sueddeutsche Zeitung editorial says that German hypocrisy about mad cow disease and imports of British beef is about to do the European cause more harm than a mere loudmouthed Austrian politician. The newspaper says this: "The European Commission is preparing itself for lengthy breach of agreement proceedings since the possibility exists that the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament, will vote in mid-March to refuse to lift the ban on the import of British beef." The editorial says there is some justice in EU-member concerns about the disease and inconclusive information about how it spreads. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung then says this: "Hypocrisy also plays a large part. The threat to the consumer is not great enough at present for individual countries to be able to afford to disengage from the EU policy. This would discredit what is called 'Europe' far more than the statements made by Joerg Haider."

DIE WELT: New openness towards the United States seems to reflect the mood of the Iranian people

Another German newspaper, Die Welt, turns its attention to Iran's upcoming election. Evangelos Antonaros writes that reformers there want normalization with the United States. Writing from Tehran, Antonaros says that Iranians in the street still burn American flags and denounce the Great Satan, but the exercise increasingly seems anachronistic. Antonaros: "New openness towards the United States seems to reflect the mood of the people more accurately than the flag burnings, and means the reformists stand a good chance of emerging as the victor in (tomorrow's) parliamentary elections. Former Deputy Minister of Culture Achmad Borgani, who was sacked for being an overly-zealous reformer, is calling for a reconsideration of Iran's relationship with the United States." Antonaros warns, though, in his words: "Xenophobic conservatives, who would have to fear the loss of their privileges if Iran were opened up to the outside world, do not at all like seeing the interests of the West in their country constantly growing -- nor do they like the idea that Iran is now meant to be opened to tourists."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The world's first Islamic state has embraced a reform it once denounced

In the United States, the Christian Science Monitor also comments on Iran. In an editorial, it says that tomorrow's election comprises a revolution of sorts. As the editorial puts it: "After 21 years of official piety, violent repression, and a failed economy, the world's first Islamic state has embraced a reform it once denounced -- open democracy." After the election, the newspaper says, in the editorial's words, "A parliament loaded with reformers may try to reverse the iron-fisted rule of Iran's clerics, sending a signal to radical Islamists everywhere and to the anti-Iran West."

GUARDIAN: There is a difference between justice and revenge

From London, in today's The Guardian, writer Linda Grant says General Augusto Pinochet appears from medical reports to be ill with an Alzheimer's-like disease called vascular dimentia. The writer said she once welcomed the idea of prosecuting Pinochet for crimes against humanity, but now believes the idea of forcing him to stand trial is useless for two reasons: One is, in her words: "If the doctors' reports are correct, he is incapable of doing so." She says the other is that it would be immoral, in her phrases, "a grotesque show trial, a spectacle of vengeance." The writer says this: "There is a difference between justice and revenge."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Now some genuine healing really can begin

The Wall Street Journal Europe comments about what it calls "Germany's Awakening." Its conclusion, in the words of an editorial: "Over the past three months there seem to have been two stories going on separately in Germany: the demise of Germany Inc., and the downfall of Helmut Kohl. In fact, they are the same story: the rebirth of Germany's democratic institutions after the incestuous marriage of the country's politics and its economy has at last been exposed as unhealthy and illicit. Now some genuine healing really can begin."

The newspaper says that leaders of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's party tried to shrug off scandalous revelations of financial misdeeds -- as their colleagues in other democracies have done. And they failed. As the editorial puts it: "In some of the world's other leading democracies, the typical, and usually effective, response of elected officials in high office who are credibly accused of wrongdoing is to shrug. Shrugging is that all-purpose gesture which says at a stroke: 'they all do it' -- Italy's Bettino Craxi; 'don't be naive' -- France's Francois Mitterrand; 'it's an old story' -- our own Bill Clinton; and 'it's time to start the healing' -- America's President again. Often, the shrug works. The press loses interest, accusers are painted as a vindictive, self-righteous lot, and events simply stumble forward."