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Western Press Review: From Space To Monaco

  • Don Hill

Prague, 2 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary today in the Western press ranges widely over issues that extend from the vast reaches of space to the tiny principality of Monaco.


Die Welt's commentator Norbert Lassau argues that the idea of colonies in outer space is now no longer in the realm of science fiction. The writer says: "The International Space Station will be a stepping stone on the way to the first manned Mars mission and colonies both there and on our own moon will be the next step. Ultimately -- perhaps in centuries, perhaps sooner -- Mars could be terra-formed and supplied with a breathable, livable atmosphere."

"Humanity," he continues, "would finally have a new final -- but unending -- frontier. Americans have never lost the pioneer spirit that drove them westward even though they've long since finished mapping every last, remote square inch of Alaska's snowy wastes. For them, space exploration means far more than just some goal-driven, practical science project and high-profit satellite business. For them, the way to the planets and perhaps the stars is just the extension of the American Dream into the third dimension, out there where the air is thin."


In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung yesterday, Werner Adam wrote that Russian President Vladimir Putin remains an enigma not only in the West but also in his own country. Adam said: "Let's not fool ourselves. Neither the West nor the Russians themselves really know what to make of Vladimir Putin. Ten months after his appointment as the master of the Kremlin, the president of the heartland of the former Soviet Union is still a long way from getting his message across to his own people."

Adam goes on: "Things are somewhat easier for foreign guests or hosts, as they usually hear from Mr. Putin what they want to hear. In general, the Americans and Europeans are pleased that Mr. Putin has so far refrained from assuming the role of international troublemaker." He adds: "Those who are reasonably familiar with the way things are done in the Kremlin tell us that the process of defining power is still going strong under the new president. However, reform politicians of the younger generation, those unaffected by the Soviet regime, believe that Mr. Putin is doing nothing more and nothing less than waging a counter-reformation."

The commentator concludes: "Mr. Putin may turn out in many respects to be a thoroughly committed modernizer. That cannot be ruled out. But he is still tied to his past, as demonstrated by the circle of his closest advisers, most with roots in the former KGB, as well as his troubled relationship with freedom of the press. And," Adam says, "if [Putin] clings to the idea that the virtually all-powerful military-industrial complex will continue to be the 'motor of the economy,' as it was in the Soviet era, then we will have to ask ourselves whether we really are dealing with a new Russia here."


Two staff-written commentaries in today's Washington Post take up a different enigma -- the emerging nature of rump Yugoslavia. Michael Dobbs writes from Belgrade: "The phenomenon of political turncoats is so widespread in Yugoslavia -- a country that has gone through a succession of bewildering ideological changes in the past 15 years, from communism to nationalism, and now, tentatively, to democracy -- that there is a special phrase for them in the Serbian language. Such people are known as tumbling pigeons, after a breed of pigeon that performs dazzling flips and somersaults in flight."

Dobbs says further: "Tumbling pigeons can be found everywhere these days in the wake of the revolutionary upheavals that put an end to the 13-year Milosevic era: in politics, in the media, in business, in the security services. After years of loyal service to Milosevic, newspaper editors, hospital directors, police generals and businessmen have spent the past weeks desperately trying to ingratiate themselves with Yugoslavia's new leaders."

He concludes: "The most spectacular cases of tumbling-pigeon behavior since Milosevic's fall on October 5 have involved the news media. Serbian state television switched overnight from serving Milosevic to leading every news bulletin with the sayings and doings of his successor, Vojislav Kostunica. The leading Belgrade newspaper, Politika, performed similar acrobatics."


From the United Nations, Colum Lynch says in the Washington Post that Yugoslavia's rejoining the United Nations raises this question -- what's Yugoslavia?

Lynch writes: "At present, Yugoslavia consists of two republics, Serbia and Montenegro. Kosovo formally remains a province of Serbia, the larger republic, even though it has been under UN administration since NATO's air war last year. Some European powers quietly have been promoting the notion that Yugoslavia should become a loose confederation of three fully equal republics -- Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. But that idea has little support in Kosovo, where most of the population seems to want full independence."

Lynch writes: "The [U.S.] administration [of President Bill Clinton] has urged the United Nations to organize elections for a new parliament, and possibly prime minister, of Kosovo by spring, although the United Nations has told Washington it will not be prepared until next fall. U.S. officials have argued that UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which ended the NATO air war against Serbia and assured substantial autonomy for Kosovo, does not rule out eventual independence for Kosovo. European diplomats say they want Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo to agree peacefully on their relationship."


New York Times columnist William Safire complains today that both U.S. presidential candidates are dodging a troubling press-freedom issue. Safire writes that President Clinton has only until Saturday to veto a Congressional bill that would punish government employees who criticize public corruption or abuses of power. The U.S. secret intelligence service, the CIA, sought the legislation, Safire says, and Clinton's Justice Department along with compliant congressmen have rushed it through Congress without public hearings.

Safire comments: "Can this be happening in America? Are we about to adopt the sort of Official Secrets Act that lets British officials decide what news is suitable for the public? Is Congress handing the next president the weapon that so many dictatorships use to stifle dissent and hide misdeeds?

"Let's see where the candidates stand," Safire continues. "Al Gore's spokesman tells me, "the bill raises serious and troubling questions." That says he fully understands the question he is ducking. George Bush's spokesman says, "we must do a better job of protecting national security secrets," but "we have not weighed in on that specific bill." That suggests light-weightedness on civil liberty." Both candidates, Safire says, will "leave this systematic squelching of criticism to Clinton, probably hoping he signs this un-American abomination and slams the White House door after him."


The Wall Street Journal Europe says today in an editorial that Prince Rainier of Monaco and France's government are in a squabble that could pit a French bid for more control over Monaco against a Rainier demand for greater autonomy. The newspaper says there may be more to Rainier feistiness than is evident on the surface. In fact, the prince seems downright defensive, the editorial suggests. It argues that the prince wishes to protect the profitable business his nation does with money launderers while France wants another way to extract the utmost in taxes from businesses. The paper lays its sympathy lies with the businesses.

Its editorial says: "We admire and applaud the Prince's elan in standing up to the bully to the north. Yet we can't help but think there's more to this case than the ire of a ruler of a tiny strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea. As we've indicated in the past, those most intent on chasing down alleged tax evaders tend to be those doing the most to milk their law-abiding taxpayers dry." It adds: "Countries such as France could do a lot to stanch the flow of capital into these 'havens' by doing less to extract every penny they possibly can from their over-burdened economies."

Instead of hounding honest businesses to get at a few tax dodgers, the editorial says, why not ease up on taxes? The paper says: "The only real solution is to lighten the fiscal load. That, after all, is why Monaco became so attractive to those with money in the first place."