Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Papers Comment On Iraq And On Czechs Jailed In Cuba

  • Don Hill

Prague, 18 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Frankfurter Rundschau presents a commentary on two Czechs recently arrested in Cuba with a catchy headline today: "Jan and Ivan Get a Lesson in Socialism." The irony of two Czechs jailed in Cuba attracts attention from several Western press commentators today. And Iraq 10 years after the Gulf War continues to draw commentary as well.


From Vienna, Frankfurter Rundschau's Ulrich Glauber writes in a commentary: "Jitka Bubenikova had little to say about the wrongs committed against her offspring when she was asked to comment on Czech radio, but she did have one somewhat dry comment. Shortly before he left Prague, her son Jan had told her, 'Mama, I have almost forgotten what everyday life under socialism was like. In Cuba, I want to see what that looks like.' His mother has now had the chance to add, "He sees now what it's like."

Former Czech dissident student leader Jan Bubenik and his traveling companion Ivan Pilip, former Czech finance minister, traveled to Cuba on tourist visas. They were visiting a Cuban dissident last week (12 January) when authorities arrested them and charged them with violating the conditions of their visit and of undermining the socialist order.

Glauber's commentary suggests that a touch of international politics and pique may be involved in the arrest of the two Czechs. He writes: "The fact that a Polish-Czech initiative at the United Nations in April last year resulted in a condemnation of Cuba's human rights record certainly will have done little to encourage the Cubans' willingness to settle problems between the two countries amicably. A solution will probably only be found when a proper publicity-grabbing example has been made. Until that happens," he adds, "Bubenik and Pilip will be given every opportunity to refresh their memories as to how everyday life under socialism looks. However, that could possibly be more opportunity than they themselves would choose."


Across the Atlantic, The Washington Post also takes up the Czech-Cuba confrontation in an editorial. The newspaper says that the Cuba of Fidel Castro may be making the common mistake of underestimating the Czechs. The editorial says: "Ever since their own improbable rise from persecuted dissidents to presidents and ministers in democratic governments, Czech and Polish leaders have made a special cause of those struggling against totalitarian rule elsewhere in the world. More often than not, that has brought them to Cuba."

Referring to the Bubenik-Pilip arrests, the newspaper says: "Last week, Mr. Castro's government responded in a way the Czechs must have found bitterly familiar." It argues, as does the Frankfurter Rundschau, that Castro probably was reacting to Czech official condemnation of Cuba's human rights record: "Mr. Castro no doubt hopes to drown out this year's East European-led review and sanction of his [rights] record, at least inside Cuba, with a loud show trial of a couple of foreigners from a country he figures cannot do much to fight back. If so, he is making a large mistake. [Communist] rulers have underestimated Mr. Havel and his countrymen at their cost."


A number of commentaries today continue to assess Iraq's condition 10 years after the Gulf War. From Paris, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Rudolph Chimelli writes that Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and George Bush in the White House -- a reference to President George Bush then and his son, President-elect George W. Bush, now -- arouse memories but hardly nostalgia. The writer says: "Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and in a few days it will be George [W.] Bush in the White House. The feeling is hardly one of nostalgia. Ten years after the Gulf War broke out it is more one of deja vu"

Chimelli also says the controlling sentiment in the Arab Mideast is defiance of the United States. He writes: "If blows and ostracism slide off Saddam Hussein like rain off a weather-proofed coat, then there is a reason. For the West, he is a villain, another Hitler, an unscrupulous tyrant. [But, Chimelli adds,] the truth is that, although [the Arab states'] own people might not go so far as to elevate Saddam to the status of national hero, any dictator who raises his fist at the United States, the hated protector of Israel, is guaranteed an outflow of spontaneous sympathy. And there are very few Arabs today for whom the sovereignty of Kuwait is holy or who would find its violation a sacrilege."


Britain's Financial Times concurs that Saddam remains firmly in place, but blames lust for oil profits and lack of Western resolve rather than U.S. unpopularity. The papers says in an editorial that the new U.S. president should reassess the West's entire Iraq policy. The editorial argues: "In spite of the most draconian sanctions regime in history, the international community is no closer to figuring out an effective way of preventing the Iraqi dictator from posing a renewed threat to the Middle East."

It continues: "Over the past three years, the policy has gone adrift. Divisions within the UN Security Council have undermined the effectiveness of the sanctions and support for the embargo has eroded in the Arab world and beyond. Business, even in the U.K., is itching to return to Iraq and develop its oil resources."

The editorial concludes: "If the Bush administration wants to restore some unity within the UN Security Council, one route may be to seek the resumption of arms monitoring in return for changes in the present sanctions regime. 'Smarter' technological and military sanctions, to target the Baghdad leadership more closely and the Iraqi population less so, could be one element," the paper says. "Stringent financial controls would remain. Another area for review might be the regular U.S. and U.K. patrols of Iraq's southern no-fly zone, which have made the U.S.'s former Gulf War allies increasingly uncomfortable. The point of looking again at these issues is not to reward Mr. Saddam but to find more effective ways to contain him."


The Washington Post's Howard Schneider, writing from Cairo in a news analysis, notes that the new U.S. government of George W. Bush will entertain the idea of the return of arms inspectors in exchange for modification in sanctions, but with little chance of Iraqi acceptance. Schneider writes: "Since Iraq kicked the inspectors out in 1998, [inspections have] been dormant, but Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell [hopes] to energize sanctions to ensure Iraqi compliance with the weapons [inspection] regime."

He goes on: "But Hussein's government insists that the inspectors will never return." Schneider quotes Saddam as saying yesterday: "Iraq has triumphed over the enemies. It will triumph in all the remaining rounds."


At least two comments today seem ready to dismiss as hysteria European fears of what has been called the Balkan War Syndrome resulting from exposure to depleted uranium, or DU. The Wall Street Journal Europe says in an editorial that Steve Fetter, co-author of a 1999 paper in the respected Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on depleted uranium, says blood testing of suspected DU victims can resolve the suspicion conclusively.

The editorial goes on to say: "Test results have started coming back. Of those tested, no one -- not the cancer patients that are the alleged victims of the alleged syndrome, not the symptom-less soldiers who served in the Balkans but have yet to show signs of the syndrome, no one -- has been found to have uranium in his blood or urine. What does this mean? Quite simply, there is no Balkans syndrome."


Sociologist Frank Furedi, who has made social paranoia his scholarly specialty, places the Balkan syndrome in a category with over-reaction to mad cow disease and, earlier, contraceptive-pill hazards. In a commentary also in The Wall Street Journal Europe, Furedi writes: "In recent decades it has become normal for some soldiers and anti-war activists to blame any postwar personal problems on their involvement in a military conflict. Ex-soldiers, like other adults, find it difficult to accept that they grow old, or fat, lose their hair and suffer from a variety of illnesses."