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Western Press Review: More Comments On Dover, EU, Russia

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 22 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators today return to several subjects they touched on earlier this week. The subjects include, notably, the discovery Monday (June 19) in the British port of Dover of a truck containing 58 dead clandestine immigrants, mostly Asians. There are also more comments on the European Union's summit in Portugal this week, new threats to some of Russia's influential business tycoons -- known as oligarchs, and an assessment of a high-level international conference on democracy due to begin Sunday (June 25) in Warsaw.


The U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor says that the "illegal immigrants who perished in the back of a produce truck as it was ferried across the English Channel only hint at the volume of people smuggling in Europe and North America. This traffic in human beings," the paper writes, "has become a legal and humanitarian dilemma."

The editorial says further: "At least 50 international crime organizations are believed to be smuggling some 400,000 people into Europe yearly. Add the illegal human traffic into North America, and the totals approach 1 million. Nothing short of a globally coordinated effort," it argues, "is going to stem this tide. Countries of origin, transit countries, and destination countries -- all have a part to play in breaking the chain of exploitation and virtual slavery endured by migrants."

The paper acknowledges that, in its words, "the movement of people across borders can't be stopped. In today's world," it points out, "even the very poor are increasingly aware of opportunities abroad." That's why, the editorial concludes, "[far] more must be done to keep their hopes from turning into a tragedy like that discovered at Dover."


In the International Herald Tribune, columnist Flora Lewis says that the problem of illegal immigration "is not new and it is not particularly British or even European. But the numbers are rising," she adds, "and the dilemma, moral as well as economic, social, and political, is increasingly acute."

Lewis's commentary goes on: "This is one of those issues full of contradictions that the globalized world inevitably aggravates. [This] is about man and turf , the right to establish a place and defend it from being overrun, the right to claim a home versus the right to move and seek a share of what society has to offer."

The commentary ends with what Lewis considers an unresolved -- and perhaps unresolvable -- question. "Police and soldiers are not going to put an end to this movement," she argues. "People have been migrating in search of better conditions since they came into existence, and modern communications and transport only multiply the trend." But, she continues, "neither can [immigration] barriers simply be abandoned" in the developed world. That, she says, would greatly increase resistance to immigration and xenophobia in developed host countries.

"So," she concludes, "this is one of those cases which have no good answer and where it is better to do the best you can with available and acceptable means than to adopt any of the bad answers. It is part of the gradual evolving and blending of the world and its cultures, sometimes painful but not to be denied."


An editorial in the Danish daily Information argues: "Europe's closed borders mean that there are two ways to come here -- through political asylum and through illegal immigration. The notorious result," the paper's editorial says, "is a disaster for the right to asylum, with a system swamped by economic migrants rather than genuine political refugees."

The editorial continues: "'Fortress Europe' needs its well-guarded gates. We cannot, of course, accept everyone. Yet," it urges, "Europe must take in many more foreigners than it does at present, and in a planned and balanced fashion that reflects both our needs and the success models of countries like the U.S."

"The European Union needs a well-articulated immigration policy," the paper goes on. "According to recent estimates, the EU will soon need qualified [immigrant] labor. To open doors in Europe's walls will not be easy," it sums up. "The phenomenon is complex and there will be no easy solutions. But our current closed-door policy is neither realistic nor humane."


In other comments today, Washington Post correspondent William Drozdiak writes about this week's European Union summit. He says that although the 15-nation group faces big problems, its leaders did little more than -- in his word -- "dither" at their meeting in Feira in northern Portugal. Drozdiak writes: "Maybe it was the sultry weather or maybe it was the frequency of these summit meetings, which bring the EU's political leaders together four times a year. But as [they] headed home after devoting two days to pondering the future of Europe, there was good reason to wonder why they had bothered to come."

"According to several participants," Drozdiak says, "there was virtually no debate about the destiny of Europe. There was, however, a lot of attention lavished on small-scale disputes." He adds: "Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain was distracted by the need to apologize to Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium about soccer hooligans. President Jacques Chirac of France fretted about the seating lest his status be slighted -- or worse, that he would have to make small talk with [Austria, whose inclusion of a far-right party in its coalition government triggered bilateral sanctions by France and other EU members.]"

Drozdiak notes, too, that there was no discussion of the EU's federalist future at Feira, even though German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had sketched what the commentator calls "an ambitious vision of a United States of Europe in a [much-noted] speech last month [in] Berlin." And, he adds, "among East European leaders monitoring the discussions, there was little inspiration for their hopes of joining the elite club soon, despite the enormous progress they have achieved toward free markets and open democracies."


In a news analysis for Britain's Financial Times, Andrew Jack says: "Russia's influential business oligarchs appear to be facing a challenge to their power and wealth under the regime of President Vladimir Putin that they have not felt since Yevgeny Primakov was appointed prime minister in autumn 1998. Then," he recalls, "Mr. Primakov warned that the country's jails could be cleared to hold economic criminals. Police raids, judicial inquiries and arrest warrants against several oligarchs followed."

But now, Jack writes from Moscow, "a new round of high-profile action against selected oligarchs has unleashed fresh tremors, and raised questions about who will emerge intact from the battle for power that lies ahead. First," he says, "came the attacks on [and arrest of] Vladimir Gusinsky, the media magnate [whose Media-MOST is] Russia's most independent media group. Most believe there was a political motivation." Jack continues: "Many see a similar [motive] behind the announcement on Tuesday (June 20) that the Moscow prosecutor's office has launched a legal case questioning the privatization of the commodities group Norilsk Nickel, controlled by the oligarch Vladimir Potanin."

The commentator argues that, in his words, "other oligarchs will prove more challenging targets [for the Kremlin]. Mr. Gusinsky," he says, "has alleged that top executives from two large oil groups -- Lukoil and Yukos -- are being considered, [and another] name regularly floated is that of Boris Berezovsky, once the ultimate Kremlin insider." Yet Jack concludes: "Attacks by the state against other businessmen have been less conspicuous than the quiet endorsement of some of their activities. [There] may be a realignment of power taking place in Russia. But the oligarchs have an uncanny ability to come back, just when they have been written off."


Also in The Washington Post, foreign-affairs columnist Jim Hoagland speaks of high hopes being entertained for the three-day, high-level meeting on democracy that begins in Warsaw Sunday. Writing from Moscow, he says: "U.S. officials expect the meeting to establish universally recognized democratic standards that cannot be restricted or stereotyped by national and cultural values. This is to be a conference free of claims that there is a particular brand of Asian democracy, African democracy, or Russian democracy that necessarily and narrowly limits individual freedoms."

Hoagland continues: "Events here in Russia, where President Putin and his aides have been busy trying to intimidate the press, bring home a major point that the Warsaw conference should make: Elections are not the only criterion on which a country's commitment to democracy should be judged. Building the institutions of civil society that permit electors free and informed choice is equally important."

He concludes: "Members of the Warsaw conference convening committee hope that their declaration will gain the same international standing that the 1975 Helsinki declaration on human rights came to have during the Cold War. They have chosen a worthy goal and a worthy model."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)