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Western Press Review: Chechnya, Press Freedom, Church-State Relations

  • Don Hill

Prague, 30 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Among other issues raised in the Western press today, commentators denounce Western silence on Chechnya, worry over attacks on the press, and ponder church-state relations.


A Frankfurter Rundschau commentator and an editorial in the Boston Globe discuss Western muteness on Chechnya. The Frankfurter Rundschau's Karl Grobe writes: "The international community -- not much more than a rhetorical figure -- is allowing the regime in Moscow what it refused in Belgrade." Grobe has a word for the decision of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly decision last week to restore voting rights in the body to the Russian delegation, suspended last year because of human rights abuses in Chechnya. The word he uses is "opportun[istic]."

The writer says: "Wars such as that in Kosovo do not benefit those for whom they -- allegedly -- are being waged. Rather, they destroy the foundation on which those people build their lives."

Grobe writes that the international community should create institutions which transcend national sovereignty and oppose -- non-militarily -- states using violence against their citizens. He says: "Responsibility for such a body would have to lie with supra-national parliaments and most certainly with the United Nations. However, the UN's structure, including the right of veto, encourages the arbitrariness of the powerful nations."


The Boston Globe writes in an editorial: "There are some silences that reveal much more than they hide. Such is the timorous silence of the West, and of Washington in particular, in the face of Russia's continuing barbaric abuses of human rights in Chechnya." The newspaper says: "The last century ought to have taught democratic leaders that appeasement of thugs in power never pays. If President George Bush wishes to make a crucial change for the better in U.S. foreign policy, he will demand that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin halt Russian atrocities in Chechnya and permit independent human rights monitors to verify that the brutality is ending."


The Wall Street Journal Europe and the Washington Post take up today separate instances -- from Africa's Zimbabwe to Russia -- of what they call anti-press activity. A Wall Street Journal Europe editorial urges that world attention focus on a courageous little daily in Zimbabwe.

The newspaper recounts: "Shortly before dawn this past Sunday (28 January), six armed men arrived at the printing plant of Zimbabwe's only independent newspaper. Several of them held the plant's security guards at gunpoint, while others expertly rigged military-issue explosives to the paper's $2 million printing presses. It was an attempt to murder a newspaper. Daily News editor Geoff Nyarota did not waste time sifting the rubble for clues."

The editorial goes on to describe what it calls a pattern of government-backed or approved harassment of the newspaper, a consistent critic of Zimbabwe's rulers. Don't write this off as just another repressed African nation, the Wall Street Journal Europe urges. It says: "Unlike much of Africa, Zimbabwe has a vigorous free press, [and so] it is not too late to save the independent media [there]. "Through the bombs and the beatings," the editorial says, "the quality of Zimbabwe's press continues to embarrass its leaders. For that reason alone, the bomb blast at the Daily News should be heard around the world."


Washington Post staff writers Peter Baker and Susan Glasser note in a news analysis today that Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is helpless to halt a campaign of searches, arrests, and lawsuits against NTV, Russia's main independent TV station. The analysts argue that the campaign is "being waged by [Putin's] subordinates."

Writing from Moscow, they say: "The president tried to make a distinction between NTV founder Vladimir Gusinsky, whom he described in criminal terms, and the editorial staff, which he praised and said should not be disrupted."

The analysis goes on: "Although Putin declined to accept responsibility for the various government actions undertaken against NTV, they have been the work of his appointees. The fraud investigation is being led by Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov and the corporate takeover attempt by state-controlled Gazprom, headed by Kremlin deputy chief of staff Dmitri Medvedev. Just two weeks ago, Putin summoned the Gazprom executive in charge of the NTV takeover bid, Alfred Kokh, to his countryside dacha to discuss the situation."


Two U.S. national newspapers comment on President George Bush's plan for funding delivery of some social services through religious groups. In an editorial, the Washington Post admits the possibility that Bush's staff is correct in saying that delivery of such services must be results-oriented and that, in Bush's expression, "faith-based social work" often succeeds better than religiously neutral government efforts.

The paper writes: "If the Bush administration planned to subsidize one type of religion, or if it aimed to make social services available only to people willing to accept evangelism alongside them, it would be stomping on religious freedom. But Mr. Bush appears to know that."

The editorial also says: "The challenge for Mr. Bush will be to maintain [a] tone of careful moderation. It may sometimes prove difficult, for instance, to allow faith-based drug rehabilitation services without infringing upon religious freedom: How do you ensure that a secular alternative is just as readily available in the same community?"


Similarly, the New York Times says,: "Few would dispute the proposition by President Bush yesterday that religious groups can provide social services effectively for the poor." But like the Washington Post, too, the New York paper urges caution. Its editorial suggests that Bush and his backers dip their collective toe in the water of this untried bathing pool before diving in, "perhaps setting up pilot programs to test their ideas before throwing [thousands of millions] of dollars at religious organizations through aid or tax credits."


Writing from the Swiss resort of Davos, the scene in recent days of the 2001 World Economic Forum, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes: "The [forum] is always useful for gauging global trends. In recent years, much of the buzz at Davos was about what technology will do for us. This year, more and more, the buzz has been what technology is doing to us. If Davos is any indicator, there is a backlash brewing against the proliferation of technology in our lives."

Friedman says further: "The problem is that human beings simply are not designed to be like computer servers. For one thing, they are designed to sleep eight hours a night. So there is a big misfit brewing here. I still can't program my VCR, [so] how am I going to program my toaster? As Jeff Garten, dean of the Yale School of Management and author of a smart new book that deals with some of these themes, 'The Mind of the CEO,' said: 'Maybe it's not time for us to adapt or die, but for the technology to adapt or die.'"


In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung today, commentator Erik-Michael Bader writes approvingly today of the possibility of a trial for Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet on multiple-murder charges. Bader says: "As during questioning last week, Mr. Pinochet probably will continue to insist that as far as death caravan murders are concerned, he was not personally involved. But that is hardly credible, as he once boasted nothing happened in Chile unless he ordered it."