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Western Press Review: Commentators Note Nations Interdependence

  • Don Hill

Prague, 18 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Much Western commentary adopts a central theme today -- when one country sneezes, a dozen other use their handkerchiefs.

One example is elections -- Iranians are voting today, would-be U.S. presidential candidates are campaigning, so is Russia's Vladimir Putin, and in Croatia, Stipe Mesic is reaping an election's fruits.

BOSTON GLOBE: Sooner or later the reformists will have to remove the hardliners

Of Iran's voting, The Boston Globe says Iran can only move into the international community by ousting its Islamic hardliners. A Globe editorial puts it this way: "If [President Mohammad Khatami and his supporters] are to eliminate the corruption and incompetence of the mullahs who are strangling a statist economy, if they are to attract foreign investment and integrate Iran into the international community, sooner or later the reformists will have to remove the hardliners from their commanding positions in the economy and the government."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: If reform wins the world will benefit enormously

The International Herald Tribune carries a detailed commentary from London, written by Guardian correspondent David Hirst. Hirst sums up his theme with these words: "These Iranian elections will help to decide whether Islamism is capable, in its foremost stronghold, of the reform and evolution needed for its own survival in any form at all, or condemns itself to eventual self-destruction."

The conflict, as Hirst puts it, "is a contradiction between the two basic concepts on which, constitutionally, the republic always has rested -- the sacred, reflecting the sovereignty of God for people's affairs, and the popular, reflecting the people's sovereignty of itself."

Hirst compares Islamic ideological politics to communist ideological politics. In his words: "A new credo had been taking root among the world's billion Muslims. It was widely perceived in the dozens of states whose populations are wholly or partially Muslim, as a global threat comparable to the other great messianic ideology of the past, communism."

Hirst declines to predict either victory or defeat for the reformers, but he says that if reform wins, not only the world, but also Iran and Islam itself would benefit enormously.

GUARDIAN: U.S. elections affect the rest of the world

In The Guardian, London, Martin Woollacott writes in a commentary that U.S. elections affect the rest of the world even more directly. This means, he says, that most of the people affected by U.S. politics have absolutely no say in them. Woollacott: "This truth dawns afresh each time that candidates for the presidency of the United States being the process which, many exhausting months and billions of dollars later, will lead one of them to the White House."

That is, he writes, that "the American president may not be as powerful as we sometimes imagine. But what he does and what he does not do can be as important to men and women in other countries as are the policies of their own governments."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Putin seems to be missing one of the central points of democracy

Also from London, the Daily Telegraph says that Vladimir Putin, virtually uncontested in the race to be Russia's next elected president, seems somehow to be missing one of the central points of democracy. The newspaper's Alexander Chancellor writes this: "The mysterious Vladimir Putin, who is facing a presidential election in Russia next month, still refuses give anything away. He told a group of university students recently that he has decided not to reveal his policy program for the time being, because it might become an object of attack."

The writer makes this comment: "Of course, it is not unusual for democratic politicians standing for election to conceal what they intend to do. Presidential candidates in America, for example, tend to limit themselves to waffle about leadership and moral authority. But it would be unthinkable for them to admit to deliberate obfuscation. Mr. Putin, the inscrutable ex-KGB man, can afford this extraordinary luxury because he considers he is bound to win in any event. He rides high in the polls, and every other serious contender for the presidency has already dropped out."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Croatia can serve as a model for Serbia

In the International Herald Tribune and in the Wall Street Journal Europe, two experts submit commentaries on Croatia. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says in the IHT that Croatia, by joining the democracies, can serve as a model for Serbia. Albright: "The [Mesic inaugural] ceremony marks a major step for the Croatian people in their post-communist transition to genuine democracy. It is also an important step forward for Southeastern Europe."

She writes that the Croatian changes, along with EU relaxing of sanctions on Serbia, in her words, "will focus the pressure for political change while also taking into account the request of the Serbian opposition. Croatia's example sends a simple message to Serbs: There is a better future, and a democratic Serbia can be part of it."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The Mesic government deserves to see the rewards of democracy

International lawyer and Croatia specialist Nina L. Gardner says in the Wall Street Journal Europe that the new Croatia deserves a better economic environment than the one it now has. She writes: "The new [Mesic government] deserves at long last to see the rewards of democracy. It serves the international community's obligations and interests to help Croatia in its endeavor to join the West and its institutions."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Sanctions often don't work well

German Commentator Peter Muench, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, pairs Serbia and Iraq as examples of what he calls "rogue states." He says that there are three ways to respond to them -- the roll-over, the bomb, and the political. He assesses those choices as follows: " The first approach is pure cowardice with catastrophic results; the second means war; and the third takes a political approach. Since no one wants to give free rein to mass murderers dressed up as heads of state and since the prime goal of international politics should be to avoid war, today's international community pins almost all its hopes on plan C - the non-violent coercion of sanctions."

Trouble is, the commentator says, sanctions often don't work well. Should they be abandoned? Sometimes, he says, yes. Muench writes this: "Two current situations provide prime examples of sanctions that have gone nowhere: Belgrade and Baghdad. All during the '90s, Iraq and Yugoslavia have been the prime targets of United Nations sanctions. Despite that, the two chief rogues, Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, still sit firmly in their saddles."

The German commentator continues: "The sanctions have, however, succeeded at devastating the two countries. Their people are starving, freezing and miserable. Their very existence is threatened. They are so demoralized and beaten that they wouldn't have the energy to cast out their despots even if they wanted to."