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Western Press Review: Mexico's Election, Chechnya And More

  • Jeremy Bransten

Prague, 4 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The opposition's national electoral victory in Mexico -- the first time in 71 years that the ruling party lost -- is a milestone for that country and provides ample fodder for today's commentators across Europe and North America. Attention also turns to Chechnya, the role of NATO in Europe, and the Independence Day holiday in the United States.


In an editorial titled "Mexico's Democratic Breakthrough," the New York Times notes that "never before in the memory of living Mexicans has presidential power passed peacefully to an opposition party." The paper says the fact that this is now happening "is a great advance for democracy in Latin America's second-largest country and Washington's second-biggest trading partner."


On the other side of the Atlantic, The Irish Times concurs, and it gives a large measure of credit to outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo, for paving the way to a democratic transfer of power: "As the first such shift in power since the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, came to office in 1929, it is therefore a momentous event in Mexico's history. There should be no doubting the honorable role played in it by Mr. Zedillo, who is dubbed the 'architect of transition' for his willingness to ensure that this was a relatively free and fair contest and that the reins of power would be handed over smoothly if his party lost."


In the Austrian daily Die Presse, Christian Ultsch writes: "Over the course of the years, [the PRI] had plenty of time to perfect its techniques of election cheating and repression. But on Sunday something occurred that had been ruled out for decades: after 13 presidential election victories in a row, Latin America's dinosaur party was sent into retirement."

He, too, praises Zedillo, saying: "It was finally his political reforms that paved the way for the defeat of his PRI. He installed an independent election board and thereby broke the deplorable tradition of falsified election results. Zedillo, who according to Mexican law could not stand as president a second time, opened the door to true democracy for his country. Finally a political change was possible, finally a rigid political system could be voted out. The Mexicans used their chance."

Of president-elect Vicente Fox Quesada, Ultsch writes: "Fox doubtless has an amazing talent for marketing. Just as he once knocked Pepsi-Cola from its market leadership, he has now, in a breathtaking publicity campaign, knocked the PRI from its pedestal. Yet the former governor of Guanajuato still has to prove whether he has enough talent to lead Mexico into a better future. The challenges he must overcome are enormous: economic, social, political. He has already, however, secured his place in history books before he even takes office -- as the man who arrived with democratic normality."


Yesterday's multiple suicide bomb attacks by Chechen fighters grab the attention of several European newspapers, including France's Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace. The daily, in its editorial, lends credence to the theory that the attacks were prompted by the Kremlin's nomination of former mufti Akhmad Kadyrov to be its local administrator in the breakaway republic: "Putin's adviser on the Chechen conflict, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, thinks the attacks are a reaction to Kadyrov's nomination. Moscow, which has always ruled out any negotiations with rebel chiefs, including [Aslan] Maskhadov, is betting on this Chechen who fought Russian forces during the first war of 1994-96 to rally the local elites to its side."

The paper cites Aleksandr Iskandarian, of the Caucasus Center in Moscow, who says Kadyrov's nomination in the place of ethnic Russian Nikolai Koshman was a sign that the idea of a negotiated solution was making progress in Moscow. "Seen from this angle," the French paper concludes, "the rebels' tactical choice to undertake suicide bombings would seem to be aimed at sabotaging any political resolution in which they are not invited to take part."


An editorial in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung also looks at what it calls Moscow's "deadly victory." So far it is not known exactly how many Russian soldiers died in the recent Chechen suicide bombings, the editorial says. "This much, however, can be said even without knowledge of all the details: the war in the Caucasus is not at an end, and it will not end soon."

The editorial continues: "That the Chechens ever more frequently resort to suicide attacks shows the brutal determination of the partisans. In numbers, they are far below the Russians. They have no chance of military victory. But they can drag out a terrible toll of blood from Moscow. And the higher it goes, the louder will be the call for a political solution."


A commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe focuses on NATO, the EU, and the role that France will play in crafting the proposed European Defense Initiative as it assumes the EU presidency this month.

Geoffrey Van Orden, a British Conservative member of the European Parliament writes, "On Saturday, France assumed the six-month presidency of the European Union, a position which will give it power to influence the EU debate for the rest of the year. ... A key element of this is defense. And rest assured: France will use its added weight to try to divide the United States and its European allies further." Van Orden continues: "This will be the realization of an ambition that dates at least from the Suez debacle of 1956, if not before, and was made manifest with Charles de Gaulle's 1966 decision to leave the integrated military structures of NATO."

Van Orden says that in his opinion, reassurances that the proposed European Defense Initiative will not compete with NATO but will instead complement it, are a smokescreen. In his words: "We are constantly reassured that the measures being put in place under the European Defense Policy are intended to strengthen NATO, not weaken it. This is disingenuous. Were this the intention, there would be no need to establish separate structures that exclude the Americans and Canadians and marginalize reliable [but non-EU] European allies such as Norway and Turkey."

Van Orden says NATO has already taken concrete steps to make it possible for European NATO states to act alone in certain crisis situations, but he says that some members, led by France, want more. "Over the past five years," he writes, "NATO has already restructured for the specific purpose of facilitating European action, should the alliance as a whole not be engaged. It developed the Combined Joint Task Force concept, and put in place military staff structures, apparently to the satisfaction of all allies. But this is clearly not enough for certain key EU states, whose real desire is to create something separate from NATO."


Today, the United States celebrates its national holiday, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. History professor and author David Kennedy, in an opinion column titled "The Truest Meaning of Patriotism," writes in The New York Times that genuine patriotism means loving one's country always -- but not uncritically. Patriotism, he notes, does not mean jingoism, it does not mean smugness, and it does not mean standing still.

Kennedy writes: "The [English] words 'patriot' and 'paternal' stem from the same Latin root, meaning 'father.' Critical patriotism toward one's country might be likened to the love that fathers and mothers alike ideally tender to their children: unconditional, but still demanding. What good parents do not both love and challenge their young, supporting them but at the same time pushing them to be all they can be?"

"The truest patriotism," he continues, "critical patriotism, will not hesitate to hold up the mirror of this nation's better, ideal self to expose its wrongs and urge its citizens to right them. Critical patriotism demands not mindless veneration, but strict accountability. It judges as well as it celebrates. It is neither foolish nor corny. It is simply necessary if this nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all of us are created equal, is to long endure."


An editorial in the Washington Post today notes that the American revolution was much like a civil war. It quotes history professor Karin Wulf , who wrote: "Like other civil wars, the American Revolution asked ordinary people to choose between two extraordinary positions. ... To support the war was to refute the king, to oppose the war was to deny one's homeland."

The newspaper says remembrance of the revolution brings up important questions: "People were torn -- families were divided -- by questions of the kind that the country has wrestled with all through its history, up to and including last week's Supreme Court decisions: What does it take to justify radical acts of disobedience to government? What are the rightful boundaries of our personal freedom?"

The Washington Post ends its editorial with an admonition: "America did well to conclude what was, in many ways, a civil war without one side's condemning the other to wholesale exile and destruction. Its future relies on a continued understanding, through the bitterest of national controversies, that 'the enemy,' whoever it might be, is still one of us."

(Susan Caskie contributed to this report.)