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Western Press Review: Commentators Take A Broad View

  • Don Hill

Prague, 7 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- With many Western commentators holding to a wait-and-see attitude on the Council of Europe's potential expulsion of Russia, commentary ranges over a mixture of issues -- the Russian economy, world justice, India and Pakistan, and China.

DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: The Parliamentary Assembly openly told Putin's huge Russia its mind

In the council's seat, Strasbourg, Jean-Claude Kiefer -- in Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace -- applauds the Parliamentary Assembly's resolution in the face of general Western apathy. He writes, "Yesterday, the Parliamentary Assembly, without other powers than those of their conviction, openly told Putin's huge Russia its mind concerning the politics of horror conducted in Chechnya. And, all this against the opinion of our European states, always willing to conclude juicy economic deals and make diplomatic arrangements."

AFTENPOSTEN: Moscow must make a choice on its own

Norway's Aftenposten, in an editorial, describes that action as rather more complete than do most other analysts. Aftenposten says this: "The recommendation by a clear majority in the Council of Europe The recommendation was from the council's Parliamentary Assembly, not members of the council itself) to have Russia's membership suspended if the human rights situation does not improve by May is a clear warning to Vladimir Putin not only concerning Russia's participation in this organization but also its overall relationship with Europe. The alternative for the Russians is whether they should withdraw into a world of their own where only the rules they have made are valid -- as they have done so many times in history -- or whether they should live in a community which respects human rights and democracy. This is a choice Moscow must make on its own."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Moscow has proved that it does not hear soft tones

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung says in an editorial today that it sees little hope for any results from the assembly's recommendation, in the editorial's words: "The Russia debate in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg has a ghostly character. Five years ago, a debate took place on the same subject with the same arguments. The only difference: in 1995 the debate focused on the admittance of Moscow into the organization; today the concern is expulsion. This time the same old arguments were employed: not to isolate, but to incorporate, to exert influence through dialogue. But a dialogue assumes that the other party listens. Moscow has proved that it does not hear soft tones."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The military is making itself felt now

Looking at Russia from a different angle, veteran commentator Daniel Schorr writes in the Christian Science Monitor that the new Russia looks remarkably like the old, pre-Yeltsin Russia, with the civilian leadership at the helm but the military calling the shots. Schorr puts it this way: "The two weeks since the election of Vladimir Putin has been a time for Washington think tanks. The Heritage Foundation, Nixon Center, and Carnegie Endowment have all trotted out their best scholars to speculate on whether Putin will be more authoritarian than Boris Yeltsin, rein in the rip-off artists called oligarchs, crack down on the press, get more assertive with the United States."

Schorr says pronouncements from Moscow place heavy emphasis on military might, and he asks what this might mean. He answers this way: "The military, whose war in Chechnya helped Putin get elected, appears to be flexing its muscle. Putin, a KGB alumnus, has said he wants to bring more KGB people into government. Back in Stalin's days, the military establishment traditionally competed for power with the KGB. And the military is making itself felt now." Schorr writes: "The Defense Ministry has already written a new military doctrine that would permit the use of nuclear weapons in case of a conventional attack."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Rounding up the war criminals remains a delicate but necessary task

In an editorial today, the Christian Science Monitor says that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague is following an essential but risky trail as it goes after the big game in war criminals. As the editorial puts it: "The international war crimes tribunal at The Hague clearly wants to bring to trial the individuals responsible for mass murder, torture, and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. But the policemen on the ground there -- NATO's peacekeepers -- have appeared not to be eager to make the necessary arrests. But now, the top aide to Mr. Radovan Karadzic during the war, Momcilo Krajisnik, has been taken prisoner -- by French commandos, no less." The editorial concludes with this: "While the danger of violent reaction still lurks, rounding up the war criminals remains a delicate but necessary task."

TIMES: The judge showed a sense of balance and compassion

From London, The Times sighs with relief that a Pakistani court shied away from sentencing ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif to die. The Times says this: "In sentencing Nawaz Sharif to life imprisonment rather than sending him to the gallows, Judge Rehmat Hussain Jafri has spared Pakistan internal uproar and further international ostracism."

The editorial says that the court gave Sharif a sentence that is, in the newspapers words, "measured and appropriate." The editorial says that Sharif, as prime minister, "gave full rein to the tribalism that has supplanted justice in rural areas." And now, The Times says, "He was tried under rules that he himself propounded; his life was spared only because the judge showed a sense of balance and compassion that will be much needed if Pakistan is ever to return to democratic government."

INDEPENDENT: It's possible that a war has been averted

In the Independent, London, analyst Peter Popham writes from Delhi of signs that war fever in the Indian subcontinent may be nearing the crisis that precedes cooling. In Popham's words: "This week of all weeks, against all odds, India and Pakistan opened a new chapter in their relationship. On the face of it the two feuding neighbors have rarely been more hostile. Yet there is no doubt that the Indo-Pak permafrost has begun to shift following Bill Clinton's visit to the region which ended a fortnight ago."

The analyst writes: "Mr. Sharif's life sentence may be an example of Clinton's emollient influence. The U.S. president left Pakistan -- he addressed the nation directly on television -- in no doubt that they must win back the goodwill of the world if Pakistan is to prosper." The analyst says he can't go so far as to predict true peace, but, he suggests, it's possible that a war has been averted."

NEW YORK TIMES: The people of China seem to be speaking

The New York Times looks to mainland China in an editorial today, and warns of what it calls "serious unrest." Here's an excerpt: "Reports are only now reaching the United States of serious unrest in the northeast Chinese mining city of Yangjiazhangzi almost six weeks ago. An account in The Washington Post this week described three days of violent rioting over job cuts and corruption that overwhelmed local police forces and continued until regular army troops arrived. This is just the kind of social upheaval that terrifies the leadership in Beijing, who well know that protests by disenchanted citizens could someday escalate again into a serious threat to Communist rule. Hundreds of economic protests, some of them violent, have erupted across China in recent years, rarely, if ever, reported in the Chinese news media.'

In Yangjiazhangzi, The New York Times says, the people of China seem to be speaking. The editorial says that the leaders of China had better listen.

(Aurora Gallego and Dora Slaba in Prague, and Anthony Georgieff contributed to today's Press Review.)