Prague, 14 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Our press survey finds Western commentary today to be -- in the English-language expression -- "all over the map," that is widely varied both by geographical region and by subject.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
A news analysis by staff writer Steve LeVine in the Wall Street Journal Europe winds a Czech investment promoter, a group of U.S. investment funds, and an Azerbaijani oil company into a complex tale. Here's an excerpt from LeVine's narrative: "Last month, two American investment funds joined a group of Wall Street investors who allege in a London lawsuit that Czech investment promoter Viktor Kozeny defrauded them in a scheme to buy control of Azerbaijan's state oil company. The 39-million-dollar suit [brings] total claims against Mr. Kozeny to about 200 million dollars."
LeVine says that Kozeny denies any fraud, saying that a completely honest scheme to bribe high-level Azerbaijan officials simply collapsed. Of course, the writer reports, the U.S. investors deny being involved in any payoffs. That would be illegal under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The analysis goes on: "Azerbaijan officials are irate that they have been dragged into a dispute over an oil company they say was never for sale." The writer quotes an aide to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev as saying: "Kozeny is a crook who stole these American investors' money, and now he's just trying to spill dirt on us."
In an editorial, Britain's Financial Times sees tentative signs of a new rapprochement between Ukraine and Russia. Since the two nations split almost 10 years ago, the newspaper says in an editorial, Russia "has tended to look on Ukrainian independence, after 350 years of Russian rule, as a temporary aberration. [Ukraine] has responded with renewed determination to go it alone."
At a summit earlier this week in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed a number of agreements on such matters as shared utility grids and aerospace cooperation. The editorial says: "Although such government agreements can be more symbolic than real, the trend clearly is towards cooperation, not conflict."
The editorial also says that Russia and the West each wants a healthy Ukraine in its sphere. The paper concludes: "The best way to do that is to ensure a stronger democracy and faster economic reform. [Both entities] should work towards the common goal of an independent and prosperous Ukraine."
In today's Frankfurter Rundschau, commentator Andrea Nuesse writes from Amman, Jordan, that the Gulf nation of Bahrain is moving toward true democracy in a referendum scheduled for today and tomorrow. Nuesse writes: "The ruler of Bahrain, the island at the heart of the deeply conservative Gulf region, has indicated that his nation is ready to strike its own path in the world. Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has said [the] referendum on political reforms [will] allow the tiny emirate's population to vote on the introduction of a constitutional monarchy, the reopening of parliament, and the separation of powers in the legislature and executive branches."
Nuesse says that the emir has won the endorsement of the Shia opposition by promising to honor the constitution. She comments: "This development is now set to secure greater political freedoms and national reconciliation."
Alleged atrocities, past and present, are the subject of commentaries in the Washington Post and the Frankfurter Rundschau.
Historian Thomas de Waal writes in the Washington Post that Western leaders have come to a point where they share the guilt for what Vladimir Putin's Russia has done in Chechnya. Under the headline, "Complicit In an Atrocity," de Waal says: "Vladimir Putin vowed in the fall of 1999 to crush Chechnya's rebellion against Moscow once and for all. That promise helped him win election as Russia's president last March."
The writer says that while the original instigators of the rebellion in Chechnya remain at large, "dozens of Russian soldiers die in ambushes and shootouts every month [and] the conflict has only deepened the allergy of most of the Chechen population to Russian rule."
The commentator says further: "The West has been both confused and tight-lipped on the Chechnya issue. Most governments have approved of Russia's aims, if not its means. They have accepted it as a war against international terrorism and as a vital struggle for Russia's territorial integrity. Unfortunately," de Wall goes on, "this attitude has made Western leaders tacitly complicit in some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War Two. Conversely, those who have most vocally opposed the war -- the Brzezinskis and the Kissingers -- have often seemed to do so more in a spirit of Russophobia than of genuine humanitarianism."
Frankfurter Rundschau's commentator Gerd Hoehle discusses the continuing virulent reaction in Turkey to a French government action last month. France publicly recognized the 1915 massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in eastern Anatolia -- then part of the decomposing Ottoman Empire -- as a "genocide."
Hoehle writes: "In Turkey, the Armenian question is taboo because it hits at the very foundations of the modern republic and, so [Turks] fear, could detract from the image of the state founder, Ataturk, the father of the Turks."
The writer says: "In varying degrees of intensity, the peoples of Europe have explored and come to terms with their colonial or fascist pasts. But no nation has been so stubborn and so complacent as Turkey in getting to grips with its past."
Hoehle adds: "The Hamburg-based Turkish sociologist Taner Akcam sees the [Turkish] taboo surrounding the Armenian question as indicative of a collective neurosis."
Another Frankfurter Rundschau commentator, Herald Maass, writing from Beijing, says that Communist China is going to great lengths to extend its rigid control of its own domestic news outlets to the Internet. Maass writes: "Each day, special police units search millions of e-mails looking for key words and content that are critical of the state. A number of websites, including those of the BBC, the Taiwanese government and Tibetan exile groups, are technologically blocked. Several Chinese have been placed on trial over the past few years for alleged Internet crimes."
The writer continues: "Following his arrest in 1998, computer expert Lin Hai was sentenced in Shanghai to two years in prison for sending 300,000 e-mail addresses to foreign-based dissident groups. Five Chinese journalists were arrested in 1999 for disseminating political information over the Internet."
Maass adds: "But [the current case of engineer Huang Qi] is the first in which a businessman has had to appear in court to answer charges based on material posted on his website. According to his wife, Zeng Li, Huang himself did not author any writings critical of the regime. She says the articles had been posted on the site by other users on the eve of the [June 1999] anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre."