Prague, 2 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators continue to assess the resignation of Austria's far-right leader Joerg Haider as head of the Freedom Party. Haider resigned on Monday, after his party's entry into a coalition with the conservative People's Party sparked widespread international criticism and political sanctions form Austria's 14 European Union partners. There are also some comments today on Russia, Iraq, and Kosovo.
NEW YORK TIMES: Haider's resignation is a tactical stunt that changes little
The New York Times calls Haider's resignation "a tactical stunt that changes little. With or without the title of party leader," the paper's editorial says, "Haider remains the dominant figure in this racist and Nazi-admiring party and, sadly, a defining force in Austria's current coalition government. Europe, Israel and the United States have rightly distanced themselves from Vienna, and should continue doing so."
The editorial goes to say that, in its words, "the Freedom Party won notoriety, and 27 percent of the votes in last year's elections, by denouncing the presence of foreigners in Austria in terms that echoed Nazi Party rhetoric. ... Freedom's racist message siphoned votes from Austria's two mainstream parties, the center-left Socialists and the center-right People's Party. Both parties," the paper adds, "grew stodgy and complacent in their long years of coalition rule."
The editorial concludes: "The People's Party leader, Wolfgang Schuessel, erred badly in imagining that the Freedom Party could be a respectable coalition partner. Haider's resignation is not enough to reverse that mistake."
DAILY TELEGRAPH: Joerg Haider has made a fool of the Austrian chancellor and the EU
Britain's Daily Telegraph uses harsher language in its assessment of the resignation. The paper says its editorial: "Joerg Haider has made a fool of the Austrian chancellor and the European Union. Wolfgang Schuessel signed a solemn declaration of intent with Mr. Haider only last month. He now finds that his partner has slipped the leash. By standing down, the latter can both remain the strongman of his party and dissociate himself from unpopular policies with which it may be saddled as part of the ruling coalition."
The editorial goes on to criticize the European Union, saying: "Thanks to the intemperate reaction of Austria's EU partners, Mr. Haider can portray himself as standing not only against the establishment in Vienna, but also that in the 14 other capitals." It argues further: "Mr. Schuessel's government has given no occasion for the [EU Executive] Commission to take action under Article Six of the EU [founding] treaty, which sets out the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law on which the union is founded. Indeed, it has been an enthusiastic supporter of a Brussels directive aimed at countering discrimination."
What this all adds up to, concludes the Daily Telegraph, is embarrassment for Schuessel and the EU and a triumph for Haider. It writes: "Mr. Schuessel has been made a laughing stock by his ambition to be chancellor, whatever his misgivings about Freedom Party ideas. Self-righteous posturing without proper consideration of its consequences has shown the EU in an equally foolish light. The beneficiary is a ruthless populist who has no compunction about expressing an outrageous view one day and retracting it the next."
IRISH TIMES: It is possible to see the contours of an alternative coalition emerging
The Irish Times does not agree. The paper supports the EU sanctions against Austria, writing: "So far there is little sign that the bilateral boycotts by Austria's fellow EU member-states have bolstered Mr. Haider's domestic standing. They seem rather to have stimulated this deepening of its political divisions. It is too early to expect them to be relaxed, given the depth of feeling in many states about the precedents set by allowing such an extremist party into the political mainstream."
Haider, says the paper's editorial, "thrives on opposition, despite his grand ambition to become chancellor of the federal government. His decision to step down as party leader underlines these preferences. It will give him more leeway to criticize the coalition with the People's Party."
The Irish Times foresees a positive outcome to Austria and the EU's problems: "Looking ahead, it is possible to see the contours of an alternative coalition emerging should the new one disintegrate under domestic and international pressure. ... [With deep cleavages in the governing coalition,] that is by no means an unlikely prospect."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Putin has decided upon 'the dictatorship of the law'
In a commentary yesterday in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, correspondent Daniel Broessler wrote: "Acting President Vladimir Putin has decided upon 'the dictatorship of the law' as his slogan for the presidential election campaign. It strikes a definite chord in a country where corruption and despotism cause many people to suffer." But, said Broessler, "Russians would be well advised to exercise a little of the skepticism they honed during the Soviet years and wait this one out."
The commentator said: "The case for absolute mistrust is justified by the example of the [RFE/RL] journalist Andrei Babitsky." He noted that Babitsky was "imprisoned by Russian security forces in Chechnya, then handed over to Chechen rebels under very mysterious circumstances and finally re-arrested in Dagestan for a minor passport irregularity, Russia's new rule of the law," he argued, "was certainly not tested on him."
Broessler added that the "circumstances of [Babitsky's release this week] also prove that things have not changed so greatly [in Russia]. Putin declared at a press conference that he did not like Babitsky being behind bars, and six hours later Babitsky was sitting in an airplane on his way to Moscow. This," Broessler concluded, "is hardly proof of the supremacy of the rule of law, but rather evidence of the immense power Putin has at his disposal. It does not take courage therefore to believe in Putin's 'dictatorship of the law,' but a little naivete would certainly be helpful."
WASHINGTON POST: U.S. support for democratic change across the Gulf region must be consistent and broad
In the Washington Post, columnist Jim Hoagland argues that the prospects for a change in regime in Iraq soon are not good. He writes: "It may be too late for [outgoing U.S. President Bill] Clinton to achieve his reluctantly adopted and unpersuasively stated goal of regime change in Iraq. But," Hoagland adds, Clinton "does still have the time to lay the foundation for a broad political and military strategy for the Persian Gulf that will challenge [Saddam Hussein's] claim to bragging rights in the long confrontation with Washington."
The commentary continues: "That strategy must be built around active U.S. support for representative democracy not only in Iraq and Iran but also in the conservative Arab monarchies of the region." For Hoagland, "the two rogue states cannot be isolated as the only candidates for change through free elections, free speech and civic and religious tolerance, as the Clinton policy pretends. U.S. support for democratic change across the Gulf region must be consistent and broad for reasons of power politics as well as morality."
The columnist argues that Clinton administration policies toward Iraq have been marked by several failures -- notably, he says, not supporting Iraqi opposition groups enough to put them "in a position to challenge" the current regime. He concludes: "U.S. policy on Iraq is a subject fit for [presidential] campaign debate, not to mention possible congressional investigation. The candidate who can persuasively outline an integrated political and military strategy to deal with the multiple national security challenges of the Gulf deserves serious consideration by American voters."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Kosovo remains a fundamentally European problem
The Los Angeles Times writes of the difficulties the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo has been having in trying to keep the peace in the province. Troop shortages, in its words "were obvious last week when NATO had trouble bolstering its forces in the volatile Kosovo town of Mitrovica." But that, the paper adds, "is only one measure of NATO's disarray. ... U.S. officials have deplored the failure of the Europeans to make good on their commitment to provide the money and personnel needed to assure normal civic operations."
The editorial says further: "KFOR's goals in Kosovo remain unclear, beyond the short-term need to keep Serbs and Albanians from killing each other and preventing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from regaining control of the province. What is clear is that the insufficient contributions of some NATO partners are undercutting the mission and hurting the alliance."
The paper argues that "Kosovo remains a fundamentally European problem, one that should require only the most limited U.S. involvement." It asks in conclusion: "Do the Europeans have the political will to deal with it? The question," it says, "grows increasingly pressing."