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Western Press Review: From The Genoa Summit To Corruption In Poland

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 20 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Much of Western press commentary focuses on the summit meeting of the world's seven most-industrialized nations (G-7) plus Russia, which opens today in Genoa, Italy. Participants are set to discuss such issues as world poverty, national missile defense and global warming, and these issues are duly debated in press commentaries -- as is the nature of those protesting the Genoa meeting. There are also discussions on the climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, the Central Asian power vacuum that lies between Russia and China, the ongoing cease-fire in Macedonia, and corruption in Poland, in the wake of the past month's series of government scandals.


A "Financial Times" editorial reflects on U.S. President George W. Bush's proposal Tuesday (17 July) that the world's poorest countries receive up to 50 percent of their aid in the form of grants rather than loans. The paper writes that an accurate description of Bush's proposal would be that "it stops the flow of credit -- but only in 10 years' time, when Mr. Bush has left the White House."

The editorial notes that loans from international institutions such as the World Bank are generally provided at a zero rate of interest, and that the percentage of defaults on such loans is very low, about 4 percent. It says further: "More important, there are advantages in lending rather than donating money. With an obligation to repay, countries are more likely to use it wisely. Loans reward success, not failure."

But the paper adds: "Make no mistake, grants will always have an important role in aiding development. After conflicts or disasters, they can be the only option if countries have no means of securing credit."

The "Financial Times" concludes by emphasizing two points: First, "international aid is costly -- pretending it is free helps no one. Second, the World Bank is not an aid agency. Leaders of the industrialized world should help it to lend to the poorest countries and to provide appropriate disciplines for its borrowers. They must also beware of populist posturing [such as Bush's], designed to boost their standing at home and in the international community. It does nothing to help the poor."


In "The Guardian," commentator Martin Woollacott takes up the issue of missile defense in the context of the Genoa summit. He says that the meeting "is likely to confirm serious differences between the United States and the Europeans which have already been much discussed." Woollacott writes: "It is true that the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty is not entirely relevant to today's needs. But it is what we have as part of a very imperfect legacy of collective security."

He continues: "The technicalities of the arguments aside, the fundamental shift [is] that the world's leading society [the United States] has moved from the assumption that we probably will be able to control weapons of mass destruction to the assumption that we probably will not be able to do so. That changes the context in which every country makes its decisions, tips the balance toward acquisition and development, and tends to replace efforts to construct an international regime of control with a preoccupation with one's own defense. And," he adds, "it makes the international landscape revealed by these recent summits more worrying. Far from so-called rogue nations being the main problem, it is the major powers, often fixed in their obsessions and objectives, whose trajectory gives most cause for concern."


An editorial in the British weekly "The Economist" suggests that President Bush needs to "come clean" about his missile defense policy. The magazine says of the U.S. argument that a missile defense program is needed to counter threats from so-called rogue states:

"The skeptic will retort that no rogue with rockets, however incorrigible, would dare attack America and risk annihilation. The ABM-buster, in turn, will respond that rogues are curious folk who may not be deterred by threats of devastation. Neither viewpoint is entirely convincing."

"The Economist" goes on to say that U.S. hopes of convincing the world of its arguments in favor of missile defense "must rest on preferring honest arguments -- and ultimately honest policy choices -- over specious ones. That means explicitly forswearing any astrodome [umbrella-type] defense, and at the same time working energetically to cut nuclear weapons and to seek stability through international agreements, not least to prevent the militarization of space. If Mr. Bush could openly dedicate himself to these goals," the editorial concludes, "he would find that much of the hostility to his missile-defense plans would disappear."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says that "for the second time in six weeks, [Bush,] having rejected the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, is visiting Europe without a strategy on global warming." It writes that at the Genoa summit, "the Europeans should not get their hopes up [about convincing the president of the importance of dealing with climate change]. Mr. Bush described Kyoto last month as 'fatally flawed' because it would damage the American economy, and he has not changed his mind."

The editorial continues: "For all its flaws, the Kyoto Protocol represented an important consensus that the harmful consequences of climate change could be averted only if the nations of the world -- with the richer countries taking the lead -- agreed to mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide and the other gases thought to cause the warming of the earth's atmosphere.

"The treaty is cumbersome and its targets need refinement," the paper acknowledges. "But [Kyoto] outlined a plausible framework for action for which Mr. Bush has provided no alternative except for a few measures announced last week calling for further research. If Japan decides to ratify the treaty, America's isolation will be complete."


A commentary in "The New York Times" by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri examines the debate over globalization. They write: "Those demonstrating against the summit in Genoa [know] that a fundamentally new global system is being formed." Under the emerging global system, they say, "no national power is in control of the present global order. Consequently, protests must be directed at international and supranational organizations, such as the G-8. [Leaders] of the [G-7 plus Russia] try to appear charitable and transparent in their goals. They promise to aid the world's poor [but] the real agenda is to renegotiate relations among the powerful, on issues such as the construction of missile defense systems."

The writers continue: "Anti-globalization is not an adequate characterization of the protesters in Genoa. [The] protests themselves have become global movements and one of their clearest objectives is for the democratization of globalizing processes. [It] is pro-globalization, or rather an alternative globalization movement -- one that seeks to eliminate inequalities between rich and poor and between the powerful and the powerless, and to expand the possibilities of self-determination."

They add: "[When] one recognizes the tremendous power of the international and supranational forces that support our present form of globalization, one could conclude that resistance is futile. But those in the streets today are foolish enough to believe that alternatives are possible."


Also in "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman writes: "Throughout history, successful social protest movements have had one thing in common -- a clear, simple message and objective. Whether it was the women's rights movement or the anti-Vietnam War movement, the mere uttering of the name immediately conjured up who the protesters were and what their objective was. The striking thing about the protesters at gatherings from the Seattle [World Trade Organization] meeting in 1999 to this week's Genoa G-8 summit is that they tend to be called just 'the protesters' or 'the anti-globalization protesters,' which in neither case conjures up much of anything."

Friedman goes on to note that there are two distinct types of protesters: those that want to stop globalization in its tracks, and those for whom the issue is not whether, but how we should globalize.

He writes: "Up to now, these two groups have been mixed together: Anarchists and leftover Marxists who are simply looking for ways to undermine capitalism in a new guise [are] thrown together in the streets with environmentalists who believe trade, growth and green can go together, [with] anti-poverty groups that understand that globalization, properly managed, can be the poor's best ladder out of misery, and [with] serious social welfare groups that have useful ideas about debt relief and labor standards in a globalizing world."


Benoit Friceau writes in French daily "Le Monde" that while all eyes are turned to the Genoa summit, the fate of the Kyoto Protocol is being decided at the climate change conference in Bonn, Germany. Friceau says the fate of the protocol depends on the involvement of Canada, Australia, Russia, and, particularly, Japan -- the second-biggest polluter, after the United States, on the planet.

He writes: "By agreeing to align with the Europeans, [the four countries] could force the United States [to] clearly declare itself as a nation opposed to the reduction of polluting emissions, or better, oblige [Bush] and his advisers to consider the possibility of a constructive counter-proposal."

If Russia and Japan join with the European countries on the Kyoto Protocol, he adds, the United States could institute it own methods of dealing with climate change. But, he says, "this would result in a two-speed system that is favorable to the [biggest] polluters on the planet."


A "Financial Times" editorial says that the "sight of three corruption scandals surfacing within a month in Poland raises serious questions about the country's reputation for financial probity. It shows," the paper says, "that the transition from communism to a strong market economy requires not only sound macroeconomic policies but also great efforts in building institutions."

The editorial argues that the extent of the alleged wrongdoing "suggests that corruption is widely spread through Polish public life, as a damning World Bank report concluded last year. But Poland is not unique in this respect," it continues. "According to Transparency International, a research group, all ex-communist states suffer from considerably more corruption than most developed democracies. The institutions dealing with corruption, such as the police and courts, lack skilled staff, money and public trust. In the early years of post-communist transition, reformers often paid little attention to this problem as they busied themselves with macroeconomic change. But now it has become clear that large-scale corruption can be a serious brake on economic development."

The paper concludes that "the battle against corruption is never won, even in advanced Western states. The challenge for ex-communist states is finding the necessary resources [to fight it]. But the lesson of transition is that the costs of fighting corruption pale in comparison with the costs of not fighting it."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," analyst Vladimir Socor writes that "between Russia and China, [lies] a vast power vacuum: that of Central Asia. The collapsed Soviet Union left that vacuum in its wake," he says. "Presidents Vladimir Putin and Jiang Zemin are now looking for ways to fill it. The design is integral to the ongoing rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing."

Socor continues: "Central Asia's countries pin their hopes on the oil and gas projects and the planned transit corridors -- modern versions of the ancient Silk Road -- which are backed by the U.S. and European Union countries. Moscow and Beijing are looking on uneasily. Last month, [Putin] and Jiang nudged the presidents of four Central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- into joining a regional mechanism for security and cooperation. Launched at a Russian-Chinese-Central Asian summit in Shanghai, and named the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, that mechanism is an expression of Moscow's and Beijing's intent to set their own rules regarding the West's role in Central Asia."

Socor adds: "[To] do so, however, Russia and China would have to transcend their historic rivalry in Asia."


Stephan Israel in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" examines the continuing problems in Macedonia. Israel notes that what he considers the illusion of arriving at a peaceful solution in Macedonia is fast fading. He writes:

"Macedonia's government chief Ljubco Georgievski is living up to his reputation of a hard-liner: with his verbal attacks on the Western diplomats, this nationalist is stepping ever further toward civil war. He is brazen in accusing international mediators of interfering in the internal affairs of a multinational state."

For Israel, this spells the end of the illusion. For him, Prime Minister Georgievski, as a hawk, embodies the problem. According to the writer, Georgievski considers the Albanian minority in Macedonia unwelcome guests. Israel says that one side or the other must be prepared to compromise, but there is no politician in the country ready to take a step toward peace.

"Georgievski is only fighting in his own interest," he writes. "He thinks he can best maintain power if the country is drowned in chaos." Likewise, the commentator says, many ethnic Albanians think they have more to gain from conflict than from compromise. Thus, he concludes, Western mediators face a threat of being hamstrung in the middle of the two fronts.


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" describes the speedy ascent to power of 35-year-old Georgievski and compares his actions to an elephant in a china shop. According to the paper, his "destructiveness" is likely to do him in and, with him, his country. In the spring, the editorial says, Georgievski displayed his aggressive tendencies toward the Albanian minority. Now he is accusing the West of aiding and abetting the Albanians, because diplomats are urging him to make concessions to the minority. Georgievski regards such a measure as a step toward dividing the country, the paper concludes, but "it is he who will be responsible for a split."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)