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Western Press review: Local Issues Dominate Western Commentary

  • Don Hill

Prague, 8 Nov 2000 -- With the U.S. election results indeterminate as newspapers went to press last night, Western commentators focus on parochial local issues. A few international topics drew attention.

Christian Science Monitor:

The Christian Science Monitor devotes space today to a commentary by Ellen Lutz of Tufts University's Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. Lutz says that Western nations should give new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica maximum maneuvering space on the question of how his predecessor, Slobodan Milosevic, should be made to face justice. But they should insist that Milosevic face justice.

The commentator writes: "Kostunica may have been swept into power by the strongly democratic yearnings of his people, but he now faces a host of daunting challenges, not the least of which is how to bring to justice the man who masterminded the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia and Kosovo."

Lutz says: "Yugoslavia's new democrats have higher priorities than dealing immediately with Milosevic."

The commentary concludes: "Even though Mr. Kostunica does not support The Hague tribunal, his administration chose not to "cut a deal" with Milosevic before driving him from power -- even after Jiri Dienstbier, the UN human rights envoy for Yugoslavia, announced that he was in favor of granting immunity from prosecution in return for Milosevic's resignation. Kostunica needs the support, patience, and understanding of the United States -- indeed, the international community -- as he struggles to set Yugoslavia aright. At the same time, he must understand that if he sweeps justice under the rug, his efforts to secure lasting peace and democracy will be in vain."

Financial Times:

Britain's Financial Times says the European Central Bank's occasional and desultory efforts to strengthen the European currency, the euro, haven't worked and it would be foolish to expect a different result the next time. The newspaper says in an editorial: "The European Central Bank is becoming sucked into a painful and protracted battle to prop up the value of the euro. It has intervened three times in the past few days. Each time, the immediate rise in the currency has quickly evaporated. The central bank needs to rethink its strategy.

"The ECB's first bout of unilateral intervention, which took place last Friday, had a dim hope of triggering a change in market sentiment. All that can now be said of the ECB's small but repeated interventions, though, is that they are stopping the currency from falling any further."

The editorial continues: "The intervention of the Group of Seven central banks in September succeeded, temporarily, in persuading the currency markets that the ECB was serious about driving up the value of the euro."

The Financial Times editorial suggests the ECB should announce a standing policy of gradually selling off its gold and foreign currency reserves at times it will choose. The newspaper says it: "could be justified as a sensible reserve management strategy. The excess assets, after all, would be sold at a very favorable rate. If -- a very big if -- the ECB and the European finance ministers could agree on such a strategy, they might find themselves profiting handsomely from the euro's weakness."

In another editorial, the Financial Times supports the contention of a UN development official that by doing its duty of seeking to strengthen poor economies, global big business also would be acting in its own interest. Some excerpts: "The idea that big business should have a social conscience and help provide public services smacks all too readily of 19th-century philanthropy. Particularly in the developing world, where organizations such as the East India Company were governments in all but name, such behavior was often merely a front for privatized colonialism. The world has come a long way since then. Globalization and the age of the internet mean that while multinational companies are the norm, their operations are subject to increasing scrutiny at home. They cannot escape the attention of pressure groups seeking to impose moral standards on their activities."

"Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the UN Development Program, argues that big business, civil society -- often in the shape of pressure groups -- and development agencies have a common interest. Part is recognition that poor communities make poor markets and poor employees."

"But many pressure groups and aid agencies involved in development have grave doubts about the benefits of globalization and the role of multinationals."

"It remains to be seen whether the UN development agencies, whose record has been decidedly mixed, are equipped to play the facilitating role that Mr. Malloch Brown envisages. But the issues he raises, including the need to draw the poor into the global circle of prosperity, are ones that business cannot afford to ignore."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, commentator Werner Adam says the suspension of recovery efforts in the wreck of the Russian nuclear submarine "Kursk" leaves a serious question still to be answered. Adam writes: "There is much to suggest that recovery efforts in the wreck of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk have been terminated not for political reasons or for reasons of military security, but solely because of the growing dangers facing the divers doing the work. However, ending the search for the remaining 106 of the submarine's 118 crew members has surely been registered with a certain relief in Moscow. The tragedy aboard the "Kursk" and the shocking political and military episodes that accompanied the sinking can now be allowed to fade from public scrutiny."

"If efforts succeed, they will likely expose once and for all the myth that the Russian navy -- unlike the government in Moscow -- continues to promulgate: that the "Kursk" was sunk by a collision with a foreign object and not by an explosion aboard the heavily-armed submarine."

Sueddeutsche Zeitung:

From Moscow, German commentator Tomas Avenarius writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken on a huge challenge in seeking control of Gazprom. The writer says: "What's good for Gazprom is good for Russia." This is how Rem Vyakhirev once put it. These days though, Russian President Vladimir Putin probably does not see eye to eye with the chairman of Russia's most important company. Why else would the Kremlin boss try to gain control of the world's largest gas producer?"

The commentary continues: "Putin has not been happy with what has been going on in the Gazprom headquarters, a 150-metre-high palace in Moscow. If he were, he would hardly have driven old 'Mister Gas,' former Russian premier Victor Chernomyrdin, from his position as head of the board of directors and replaced him with his ally Dmitri Medvedev, former deputy chief of staff at the Kremlin."

Avenarius writes Gazprom is a state within a state. It controls 25 percent of the planet's gas production and sells 500 billion cubic meters of gas a year with a market value of $35 billion."

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung writer concludes: "Another bone of contention for the Kremlin comes in the form of the Gazprom's media subsidiaries, such as Media Most. But, independently from the bickering about Media Most, Putin would like to see his own people at the head of Gazprom. Ex-Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin was the first who had to give up his position: a lot of his political clout derived from his contacts with the company. It is clear that Vyakhirev is next on the list."

International Herald Tribune:

Finally, the International Herald Tribunes John Vanocur did find a trenchant comment to make about the U.S. elections, even with the results so doubtful. Vanocur writes from Paris: "Europe, Asia and the rest of the world never get the U.S. president they want because he is always an American."