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Western Press Review: Focus On Ethnic Strife, Human Rights

  • Don Hill

Prague, 31 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Global ethnic strife and human-rights violations capture the attention of many Western press commentators today.


Denmark's daily Information provides an overview in an editorial. The newspaper says: "Racism is again showing its ugly face in Europe." The editorial continues: "The EU is constantly tightening its immigration legislation, making it more difficult for refugees and economic migrants to come here. Extreme right-wing parties are on the ascent and neo-Nazi groups indulge in racist violence. A new wave of xenophobia is surging. The most terrible aspect of it is that it is getting more and more popular support."

The editorial goes on: "Racist forces, which previously thrived on the periphery of politics, have now come center stage. Many mainstream parties in most EU states have resorted to racist language and ideas."

Information says that the richer West European nations worry about conditions in the Third World. They'd be more convincing, says the editorial, if they were doing better at home. The editorial says this: "The values and ideals that Europe itself holds so dear are being put to the test [by its own extremist parties]. That democratic values do not exist in many countries in the world is no excuse to undermine them in Europe."


German commentator, Hannes Gamillscheg, writing today in the Frankfurter Rundschau, finds part of the problem in Scandinavia itself. He writes: "Norway's right-wing populists are on the march. Referring to the rise of Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party, [Norwegian] Labor Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has warned that his country could become 'a second Austria.'"

Gamillscheg says that the right-wing Fremskrittspartiet, or Progress Party, has leaped in approval ratings and for the first time has topped the Labor Party. He writes: "Voters are defecting in droves to Carl Hagen's Progress Party. Hagen has headed the party for 22 years but never as successfully as now."

As a result, the Frankfurter Rundschau commentator says, Hagen's ambitions have soared along with his popularity. The writer says: "No party in Norway has so far expressed an interest in joining a coalition with the unreliable right-wing extreme Hagen represents." He continues: "Stoltenberg says the danger that Norwegian politics could mirror developments in Austria is very real. He is appealing to his country's centrist and center-right parties not to welcome the heretofore marginalized Hagen into the legitimate political fold."


In Germany a hideous race-hatred murder has just been capped by conviction and sentencing of the perpetrators. Wolfgang Roth writes in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "There can be few, if any, motives baser than racial hatred for killing someone. That is why a court in the eastern German city of Halle found three youths guilty of murder and sentenced them with the full force of the law. They were on trial for brutally beating a Mozambican to death."

The writer says that the case was a clear one. He adds: "What is not at all clear, however, is how we are supposed to go about stopping the murders and savage beatings that have turned Germany into a land of horrors. In sentencing the three neo-Nazis, the judges in Halle went just about as far as German jurisprudence allows them. They needed no encouragement to decide as they did. Judges," he goes on, "are not charged with deciding their cases to appease the public's outrage. They must pass judgment according to principles of justice and law. But German judges in Halle and elsewhere only meet offenders once they have arrived at the end of a long line."

Roth writes: "Reaching people before they get to that point requires many things. Most of all, it requires patience for the long haul. What we need is energy, money, reasonable local communities and smart politicians."

More laws restricting the rights of accused neo-Nazis or special approaches designed for what Roth calls "racist thugs," are not what is needed, he writes. The writer says: "What we need are investigations and court proceedings that move quickly. The Halle judgement is a good example."


Britain's Times daily editorializes approvingly on German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's recent 11-day trip to former East Germany, made in part to responding to new Nazi race hatred there. The Times says: "It was high time that Herr Schroeder went on his trip east."

The editorial says: "The Chancellor has formulated a three-pronged response to race crime. He wants tougher sentencing in court. He wants better job prospects for the young in deprived eastern areas (though significant new initiatives have yet to be funded). And he wants citizens to stand up more strongly against race crimes. He is ready to get tougher still. He has called for the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party to be banned. Government officials are also considering banning demonstrations near the Holocaust memorial being built in Berlin."

The Times concludes: "The chancellor deserves some credit for trying to stop racist violence[from] becoming a stock response to the eastern states' problems."


In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Matthias Drobinsky comments on a decision of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany to pay on its own the equivalent of $4.6 million in reparations for forced laborers -- most from central and eastern Europe -- it exploited during the Nazi era. It is welcome news, Drobinsky says. He adds, however: "The bishops could have issued a statement accepting the church's share of political responsibility, even though the church did treat its forced laborers better."

The writer adds: "The Catholic bishops have had to force themselves to admit that the church owes a debt to the Nazi victims." He says: "Their protestations of innocence, their petulant claims that they have nothing to be ashamed of -- all that does nothing but weaken the political significance of the step they have just taken."


An editorial in Britain's Independent newspaper states concisely: "Turkey should face up to an ugly episode in its history." The editorial refers to the slaughter in 1915 of Turkish forces killed -- in the Independent's phrase, "huge numbers" of Armenians.

Turkey's ambassador in London has just denied again that the killings constituted genocide, despite acceptance of that label by much of the rest of the world. Germany's Adolph Hitler is reported to have said once of the incident, "Who now remembers the Armenians?"

The Independent's editorial says: "Turkey proclaims itself to be, and is widely accepted as, a functioning parliamentary democracy. [For such a country] to complain about an historical act is a disgrace. Turkey must lean an obvious lesson -- admitting past crimes would make it look better, not worse, is the eyes of the world."


The Daily Telegraph inveighs in an editorial against any softening by Spain of its stand against Basque separatist terrorism. The editorial says this: "Bargaining with those who kill and maim undermines the rule of law and encourages the extortion that is all too prevalent in Northern Ireland and Corsica [in France. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar], who survived a [the Basque terrorist group] ETA assassination attempt in 1995, has set his face like flint against an organization that has killed nearly 800 people over the past three decades."

The editorial says: "In Britain and France, we are witnessing a failure of nerve by the state in the face of a prolonged campaign of violence." The newspaper concludes: "France, which has a Basque problem of its own, should be grateful for such determination. The British government should be shamed into hardening its stance against paramilitary law-breakers. Mr. Aznar and his supporters are torch-bearers."


International affairs commentator Jim Hoagland argues in yesterday's Washington Post that Israel no longer can afford its continued occupation of Arab lands on the West Bank. Mideast peace, he writes, may hang on Prime Minister Ehud Barak's success of failure in getting his soldiers out of the area. Hoagland says: "Occupation is the hardest, dirtiest and most dispiriting military task that soldiers perform. Over time it grinds them down while emboldening those they subjugate Empires have fallen on that simple, observable fact."