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Western Press Review: Continuing Comment On U.S. Politics; Other Topics

  • Don Hill

Prague, 15 Nov 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Still bemused by U.S. politics, Western press commentators also take on a variety of other topics today -- among them, Polish economic policy, Serbia's poor, and European migration.

Christian Science Monitor:

The Christian Science Monitor today publishes a commentary on Serbia by refugee advocates Lionel Rosenblatt, Antonia Blackwood and Loubna Freih. After a visit to Serbia, the writers say that applause for the people of courage who brought down Slobodan Milosevic is appropriate, but what really is needed is immediate and extensive aid.

They write: "Foreign aid is crucial for retaining the confidence of the Serbian people in the new government. Already energy deficits are causing demoralizing electrical blackouts relatively unknown during the Milosevic era. Just as the Balkan winter is arriving, fuel and food will be running out."

The commentary also says: "Now that peace and democracy have come to Serbia, surely the international community can assist that country and its people to move forward, starting on the humanitarian front."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, commentator Thomas Schmid observes that European societies have more than 200 years of experience with immigration, but often fail to view it with sufficient perspective. Schmid writes: "When it actually is under way, immigration is regularly perceived as an unprecedented phenomenon and often as a threat, especially in countries such as Germany or Italy whose colonial experience is limited."

Schmid says the German political right pushes for tighter asylum regulations, to limit immigration -- as he puts it -- "thereby contributing toward solving an entirely practical question. Yet at the same time," he adds, "they have barricaded themselves behind the slogan that Germany was not a land of immigration."

He continues: "The political left dealt with the issue in an ideologically opposite way, closing its eyes to obvious asylum abuse and to the fact that Germany bore a greater burden in this area than all the other together."

The writer says that immigration policy should seek what he calls "middle path between open-mindedness and willingness to help people, on the one hand, while on the other, defending our interests and respecting people who are apprehensive." He concludes: "An immigration policy that loses sight of the collective profile will not attract a majority."

Financial Times:

Britain's Financial Times, in an editorial, perceives petty politics behind a proposal in Poland to renationalize the country's dominant insurance company, PZU. The newspaper calls it "Polish blundering."

The editorial says: ""The treasury minister's decision to pursue an argument with the company's private shareholders by annulling last year's privatization is arbitrary in the extreme. He should reconsider because Poland's reputation as an investor- friendly country is at stake." It adds: " If treasury minister "Andrzej Chronowski gets away with it at PZU, he might be tempted to go for other targets."

The editorial also says that the action is tempting for a Solidarity party in trouble with disaffected voters and eager to attract nationalistic support. It concludes: "But Solidarity should see the long-term dangers. Poland has prospered mightily from foreign capital and from privatization. It needs more investment, not less, if it is to continue with its economic modernization and preparations to join the EU. The government must change course before it is too late."

Press commentators generally express one of two views on U.S. democracy when the country holds its presidential election every four years -- "how ludicrous!" or "how admirable!" The latter view prevails in Western commentary today.

Irish Times:

Writing in the Irish Times, columnist Kevin Myers says that other nations seldom have to put up with what he describes as the "festival of banality, ignorance, arrogance and presumption" that greets U.S. citizens in Europe each four years.

Myers writes: "When the U.S. presidential election heaves into view, every customer in every public bar, every drunk swaying at every urinal, will have an expert opinion on U.S. politics. That usually consists of caricaturing U.S. Republicans as belonging to a species of particularly stupid reptile which miraculously managed to escape the extermination of the dinosaurs, and which is never happier than when napalming Asian hamlets or slowly electrocuting a few blacks for shoplifting."

"To be sure," Myers, allows, "I truly don't understand the American enthusiasm for execution. They don't even seem to get it right, with their injections -- hold that arm still, will you, I haven't got all day -- and their faulty electricity -- darn, there goes the power again, and he still ain't dead, look, his eyes are rolling."

He continues: "The Chinese, now, go for a bullet in the back of the brain, and that seems to do the trick nicely, in huge numbers. But the Chinese in Europe aren't accosted with queries about why they bump off so many of their people. Instead.," he says, "we murmur inwardly about not wanting to let the other fellow lose face, and compliment him on chopsticks, fireworks and other great Chinese contributions to world civilization."

"Yet," Myers says further, "we have no such sensitivity towards Americans, Republicans in particular -- though, executions notwithstanding, there is an intellectual rigor in much Republican thinking one seldom finds in European politics. And now the quadrennial ordeal of Americans in Europe is being turned into a permanent torment, each morning to find Florida unresolved as Europeans repeatedly scold them about their country's imperfections."

"Of course," he concludes, "Europeans are free to do that. Tormented Americans in their anguish might gently ask their tormenters to remind themselves where that freedom came from."

Washington Post

In the Washington Post, former U.S. diplomat James Rubin states the same case from an American's perspective. He writes: "It doesn't surprise me that enemies take the opportunity to denigrate our democracy. The Libyan ambassador called it 'ridiculous.' Nor is it a shock that some of our allies accuse us of hypocrisy and question the legitimacy of our global effort to promote democracy and the rule of law, as European officials have been doing. After all," he adds, "in terms of military capability, economic strength and the power of our ideas and culture, we are the world's only superpower, and such criticism goes with the territory.

"But," he says, "it is absurd for Americans themselves to pile on." After all, he continues, "our country is so free and so democratic that the entire presidency is hinging on a few hundred votes -- a little more than one-millionth of the votes cast."

"Sure," Rubin continues, by calling Florida for Al Gore, then for George W. Bush and then for nobody, the networks needlessly caused heads to spin in America and around the world. That is what it means to have a genuinely free press -- the media have the right to be wrong."

He adds, though: "But do not choose the winner. The people do. In fact, the openness of our system means that elderly voters in Palm Beach can go on television and petition their local government to complain about the mechanisms used to record their vote. We are talking about honest mistakes, not massive fraud. In the end, both candidates will respect the will of the people and the rule of law."


In Britain's Guardian daily, Jonathan Freedland writes from Florida that the state's unaccustomed prominent role in the U.S. presidential choice gives what he is called "government in the sunshine" a whole new meaning.

Freedland says: "They have a slogan here about 'government in the sunshine' -- and the funny thing is they mean it. Early yesterday morning, the two women and one man who make up Palm Beach County's election-supervising body met to decide whether to recount their region's votes by hand. They did not gather behind closed doors, away from view. In fact, they didn't meet behind doors of any kind: they held their session outside, on a makeshift platform, in front of the cameras and the crowds. This was not a press conference, but an actual discussion by three election commissioners. It took place in the open: government in the sunshine."

He continues: "That little scene is typical of the mess America is in, one week after it was meant to have chosen a new president. To the naked eye, the Palm Beach session looked palpably absurd: a decision which could determine the next leader of the free world taken by a trio of amateurs, in barbecue conditions. Yet underneath that shambolic surface was a noble intent: truly open government."