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Western Press Review: From The Berlin Wall To Sino-Russian Relations, Middle East

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 27 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today and over the weekend discusses a variety of subjects. Among them are the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the upcoming contest between French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin for the French presidency, the Middle East, trans-Atlantic relations, and the conflict in Macedonia.


In "The Boston Globe," syndicated columnist Richard Reeves says last week's 40th anniversary coverage of the building of the Berlin Wall "went about as expected" and perpetuated many myths that seem to have become conventional history. He writes: "The Wall was a brilliant solution to the political and military problems of both [Russian leader] Nikita Khrushchev and [former U.S. President John F.] Kennedy. The leader of the communist world could not stand by as more than 2,000 of his subjects [fled] each week to the West through Berlin."

The Wall was a necessary response to these circumstances, and the West was unable -- and also perhaps unwilling -- to respond effectively. "[The] leaders of the free world had only 15,000 occupying troops in West Berlin [and] they were surrounded by dozens of divisions of the Red Army." Reeves says that the Western policy that followed construction of the Wall was inevitable: "Unless you're nuts, and some were in those days, you would do what John Kennedy did: Say bad things about the Soviets and do nothing. It worked. The Wall became the great anti-Soviet advertisement. There was never an American-Soviet confrontation where it really counted, in Europe, and one day the Wall and communism fell without being pushed or nuked."


In Britain's "The Guardian," Jon Henley considers the upcoming contest for France's presidency between President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. He says that in spite of recent scandals plaguing Chirac, he may yet prove triumphant in next spring's elections. In contrast, Jospin's economic successes in the past may not be enough to carry him to victory.

Henley writes: "[After] a long period of sustained growth, the French economy is faltering. [Even] more worrying for Jospin, the downturn could lead voters to forget his government's proudest achievement: a fall in unemployment from 12.6 percent in 1997 to 8.7 percent this April. [The] sad thing for the prime minister, whose approval ratings have dropped sharply over the summer, is that the French electorate seems to take all this far more seriously than it does the growing mountain of evidence suggesting Chirac got up to some very shady stuff indeed while he was mayor of Paris, [including] the 'Travelgate' scandal, in which Chirac paid some $300,000 in cash for exotic foreign trips for himself, his family and his friends."

Henley concludes: "France's highest court will decide in October whether [Chirac] can be called as a witness. Whatever it decides, France seems prepared to forgive '[Chirac] the Bulldozer' more readily than '[Jospin] the Professor.' No one should write off Chirac quite yet."


In the "Financial Times," Robert Cottrell examines Russia's and China's conflicting territorial claims to two islands, Bolshoi Ussuri and Tabarov, in the river off Khabarovsk. He says that the way in which the two nations deal with this dispute will be a test of their commitment to a policy of friendship as stated in a July treaty in which they renounced territorial claims on one another.

Cottrell writes: "But, in a nice piece of diplomatic legerdemain, the treaty also declared its opposite. It said two sections of the 4,259-km border had yet to be agreed and would remain the subject of negotiations. [Looking] at a map, many people would come to the same conclusion as the Chinese government. The islands are Chinese. But for Russia to admit as much would be a big concession in a place where even small concessions are scarcely possible."

Cottrell continues: "Russia fears its own weakness here, as much as China's strength. Fewer than 8 million people populate the trackless expanses of the Russian Far East. [And] as the Russian population shrinks because of emigration and a high mortality rate, the fear of encroachment grows."

"As for the Russians, they are guilty, like many other great powers down the centuries, of imperial over-reach. [The] people of the Russian Far East may fear they cannot hold these lands for ever. But for the moment there is a border -- and they plan to keep it there."


In the German daily "Frankfurter Rundschau," Inge Guenther says the situation in the Middle East bears out the premise that it must get worse before matters improve. Guenther writes: "One should be under no illusion. In the Mideast conflict, the possible negotiations for a truce play only a slight role. The scenario is focused on the military logic, the desire to fight and the absence of any political foresight." She writes that every military build-up on both sides is bringing the Middle East nearer to the brink of war, which does not absolve the United States of the responsibility to intervene.


Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" also raises the issue of the Middle East, speculating whether Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is intent on completing what the paper calls the "Zionist project." The paper says this century-old result of the European nationalist and colonialist plan had visions of turning Palestine in its entirety into a Jewish state. Many Palestinians now fear that Sharon, intent on this aim, will force events toward a regional war.

The editorial describes the consequences for the Arabs if this were to occur but apportions some of the blame to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, saying he has established a typical dictatorship. The Arabs have learned little of how to use democratic means and passive resistance in dealing with occupiers, the paper says. "A peaceful march to East Jerusalem of hundreds and thousands would be more effective than throwing stones."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger considers the source of what he calls European "disappointment" with the United States and the policies of U.S. President George W. Bush and his administration.

Frankenberger suggests that Europeans may be disappointed because the U.S. "is not acting as a selfless leader and power concerned about the interests of all and ready to guarantee the fabric of global institutions.... [The] United States is not performing its hegemonic, well-meaning duties, but is acting as a superpower beholden only to itself and putting its own interests above everything else."

Frankenberger continues: "The Bush administration did quite a bit in its first months to ensure the spread of this attitude in Europe. [It] is up to Mr. Bush to provide the kind of leadership that does not conceive of true partnerships as a burden and does not close its mind to the needs and arguments of others. A United States that is sufficient solely unto itself sows the seeds of its own imprint. This, however, is no less true of a self-righteous Europe staking its claim to the moral high ground."


Also in the "Financial Times," international relations analyst Dominique Moisi says that Europe and the U.S. are drifting away from their traditional close alliance and moving toward a new definition of their relations. She writes: "America and Europe remain united by fundamental common interests but they have diverging emotions. They have different fears and no shared dreams."

The common threat that the Soviet Union presented for decades provided "a unique glue" to cement trans-Atlantic relations, she says. Now, our differences have had a chance to re-emerge.

"Because our cultures and our historical and social traditions are different, [the fact] that we influence each other more profoundly and in more diverse ways than at any time in the past does not bring us together. [The] more the French dress like Americans, eat American food, dance to American music, [the] more they feel like defending what they describe as their cultural uniqueness."

Moisi concludes: "America and Europe must start to rethink their traditions of alliance and argument in a new cultural environment dominated by the co-existence of multiple and conflicting identities. The more alike we are, the more we are likely to emphasize our differences. The trans-Atlantic crisis is real and should be recognized as such if the political will to confront it is to be found."


In the French daily "Le Monde," their correspondent writes from Chisinau that Moldova is moving toward stronger ties with Russia. Having replaced Albania as the poorest nation in Europe, the nation has grown disillusioned since declaring independence in August 1991. Earlier this year, a communist parliament was chosen and in April, communist President Vladimir Voronin was elected.

Voronin "talks about democracy and market economy -- an inescapable declaration of principles in a country laden with heavy debt that waits for a resumption of assistance from the International Monetary Fund. Moreover, Moscow urges it to pursue its attempts to lure Western creditors."

And President Voronin, who campaigned promising to bring Moldova closer to Moscow through entry into the union of Russia and Belarus, "refuses to go back on this promise. At the same time, the Kremlin pursues its efforts to admit not only Moldova but also Ukraine to this new military-political block."


Examining the NATO-led collection of arms in Macedonia, Matthias Roeb says in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that "Operation Essential Harvest" is largely a symbolic mission. He writes: "No one believes the ethnic Albanian rebels will surrender their complete arsenal. It is also known that the rebels -- who are strongly supported by diaspora Albanians, particularly those in Switzerland and Germany -- can procure replacements whenever they want. But there has been no talk up to now of NATO's simply symbolically confiscating arms in Macedonia."

He concludes: "Without a significant reduction in the rebels' military strength, law and order cannot be restored in rebel-held areas. Who will help Macedonia's displaced Slavs return to their villages and live there safely once NATO's 30 days have expired and the alliance has pulled out?"


In "Jane's Defense Weekly," correspondent Tim Ripley quotes a Western diplomat as saying that "Operation Essential Harvest" could be NATO's "most difficult mission." For the peace plan signed last week in Skopje to end hostilities, Ripley continues, a political understanding between the parties on the factors that underpin it must be reached.

Ripley writes: "To succeed, NATO must reconcile two conflicting views of its role in the peace process. The UCK sees NATO's role as protecting it once it hands its weapons into the collection points. [Nationalist] Macedonian politicians see NATO's task as forcibly disarming the UCK to allow the safe return of rebel-held territory to police control so that 'war criminals' among the ranks of the 'Albanian terrorists' can be brought to justice. These differing perspectives were clearly evident in the hostile political climate in Skopje in the days following the signing of the agreement."

Ripley goes on to say that in this mission, "the main concern for NATO is that the UCK will follow the example of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) and hand in a token quantity of arms while stashing the rest. Without a mandate to search for arms, NATO has to trust the UCK. In turn, the inherent difficulties associated with this process could enable Macedonian hard-liners to accuse NATO of failing in its mission."

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