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Western Press Review: Europe's Rightward Shift, Eastern Euroskepticism, And The 'War On Democracy'

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 8 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries and editorials in the Western media today discuss the fatal shooting on 6 May of the Netherlands' rightist politician Pim Fortuyn. Other analysis looks at Eastern Europe's growing Euroskepticism, the appointment of Jean-Pierre Raffarin to the post of French prime minister, the formation of an International Criminal Court and America's new "war on democracy." The situation in the Middle East is also discussed, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cuts short a visit to Washington after another suicide bombing kills 15 in a pool hall near Tel Aviv.


An editorial in "The Irish Times" opens by noting that the fatal shooting on 6 May of rightist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was the first political killing in the Netherlands "since the brothers Johan and Cornelis de Wit were slain for opposing the rule of the royal house of Oranje-Nassau in 1672."

For the people of the Netherlands, it says, the assassination "may have far-reaching consequences. In a country where, despite its wealth, government ministers arrive by bicycle for cabinet meetings, where leading politicians walk freely through the streets of its towns and cities, there is a strong danger that this admirable situation may be brought to an end." More stringent security measures will probably follow Fortuyn's death, the paper predicts. The paper says in addition, the killing of such a well-known anti-immigrationist may "serve to highlight the rise of the far right in European politics and may in the long run gain votes for those involved in simplistic, racially motivated campaigns."


In Britain's daily "The Guardian," staff writer Jonathan Freedland discusses the perceived Europe-wide rejuvenation of the right wing in light of Fortuyn's assassination. He says Fortuyn's death could lead to a "posthumous victory" in Holland's 15 May elections, "triggering a sharp shift to the right." Freedland cites a Dutch Labor Party member as predicting a huge sympathy vote. Previously undecided voters may switch, perhaps giving Pim's party between 30 and 40 percent, according to the official.

Freedland says nations throughout Europe are seeing "a far right stronger and more energized than at any time in half a century. Jean-Marie Le Pen's 6 million votes in France, placed alongside both Joerg Haider in Austria and the commanding position of ultrarightists in Belgium and Denmark, were already demanding attention. Now they cannot be ignored," he says.

The real warning for Europe, says Freedland, is that Pim Fortuyn's success, like Le Pen's in France, "is the latest in a string of voter rebellions against cozy, consensual elitist politics from which citizens feel entirely shut out. First it was the Danish 'No' vote in a referendum on a single currency. Next came the Irish vote against the Nice Treaty on EU enlargement. Haider, Le Pen, and Fortuyn have all been bearers of the same message: voters kicking against a system which they are convinced is not listening."


In the international edition of the U.S.-based weekly "Newsweek," Andrew Nagorski discusses the East's growing skepticism of the benefits offered by EU membership. Nationalist and rightist politicians are gaining support throughout the region, playing on fears of what EU accession will mean for the new member states. Nagorski remarks that most Westerners assume all Eastern European nations are anxious to join the EU, but he says this is "not quite the case. A majority still supports membership, but the numbers are going down -- in Poland, from 77 percent in 1994 to 55 percent today. Second thoughts are being felt elsewhere as well," he says.

Polish, Slovakian, and Hungarian farmers have reservations concerning the EU's insistence that new members initially receive only 25 percent of the agricultural subsidies that Western Europe's more prosperous farmers receive in nations such as France, Spain, and Portugal. Eastern Europe's farmers are to receive an equal amount only after a decade of gradual increases in the subsidies.

This issue in particular has caused some to reconsider the benefits of membership. There are worries that a nation such as Poland, where 20 percent of its population qualifies as farmers, "could end up paying more into the EU than it gets out of it."

But Nagorski says the desire to "rejoin" Europe through membership in the EU still remains strong, particularly among the youth. And other pro-EU forces remain firm in the belief that membership will bring far more benefits than costs.


An editorial in the French daily "Le Monde" discusses re-elected President Jacques Chirac's appointment of Jean-Pierre Raffarin to the post of prime minister, replacing the outgoing Lionel Jospin. "Le Monde" says there is a spirit of restoration pervading the new government following Chirac's re-election victory on 5 May. But the paper adds that Raffarin's appointment, although politically skillful, should not hide the fact that Chirac has chosen to shift the political spectrum to the right, instead of learning from the nationwide dismay that surrounded the strong showing of right-wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the election's first round.

"Le Monde" says the new prime minister seeks to answer calls from the French populace for less political elitism and more receptiveness and tolerance from its politicians. The paper says Raffarin will ultimately be judged by his actions, but the image of this savvy former media businessman does not seem in the spirit of the "spirit of unity" that Chirac has called for.

However, "Le Monde" says Raffarin may be able to counteract the negative impression created by recent moves from Chirac's camp, remarking that the president seems to be attempting to reconquer that portion of the rightist electorate that voted for Le Pen's National Front. The editorial concludes that the voters who lent Chirac their support in the fight against Le Pen's extreme-right views "have good reason to feel disappointed."


In "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman writes from Jakarta on the reservations many are having around the world over the U.S. foreign-policy shift following the 11 September attacks. "As Indonesians see it, for decades after World War II America sided with dictators, like their own President Suharto, because of its war on communism. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, America began to press more vigorously for democracy and human rights in countries like Indonesia, as the U.S. shifted from containing communism to enlarging the sphere of democratic states."

But Friedman says some worry that American priorities have shifted again, "from a war for democracy to a war on terrorism, in which the U.S. will judge which nations are with it or against it not by the integrity of their elections or the justice of their courts, but by the vigor with which their army and police combat Al-Qaeda."

Friedman continues: "There is a broad feeling among Indonesian elites that while some of their more authoritarian neighbors, like Malaysia or Pakistan, have suddenly become the new darlings of Washington as a result of the war on terrorism, Indonesia is being orphaned because it is a messy, but real, democracy." He says Indonesia, as the world's biggest Muslim country, could eventually be an example of how it is possible "to develop a successful Muslim democracy, with a modern economy and a moderate religious outlook."


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Thomas Schmid looks at the rise in populism throughout Europe, and calls the late Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn "Europe's completely postmodern populist." Schmid says populist movements in Italy, France, Denmark, Austria, and Norway have many things in common -- styling themselves as rebels, the parties propose that the whole political system needs an overhaul. "Far from regarding the existing system as in need of a few improvements here and there, they see it as moribund and corrupt," he says.

Schmid remarks that the most surprising thing about the rise of populism in Europe may be the support it has gained in northern Europe, particularly Denmark and Norway. He says one might expect countries such as France or Italy "to rise up in protest against the champions of gradual modernization. But why should that happen in the north, with its unshakable faith in the welfare state, land reclamation projects, integration programs, and unremitting good sense?" he asks. "Perhaps it is precisely this hubris of the enlightened spirit that has provoked a populist revolt," Schmid suggests.

Schmid goes on to say that today's populists "are a product of a paternalist style of politics that presumptuously believes it has a duty to protect people from certain unpleasant truths. The longer this presumption lasts, the more likely it is that this latest addition to Europe's political party system will be here to stay."


An editorial in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" expresses support for the United States' decision not to support the creation of an International Criminal Court. "[There] are plenty of persistent lawyers out there with a political axe to grind who would relish the prospect of dragging the mighty United States through the courts," the "Telegraph" writes. "The Americans can hardly be blamed for seeking to deny them the opportunity."

The editorial continues, saying there is a tendency "to try to use international systems to turn America into a pariah nation -- what [EU Commissioner] Chris Patten has called a 'rogue superpower.'" But there is "no proven need for a permanent international criminal court," says the paper. "War crimes, from World War II on, have been dealt with by special tribunals, the most recent being those set up for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. It is hard to see how the new court would add anything to what they have achieved. It is all too easy to envisage it being abused for political ends."


An analysis in "The Washington Post" by staff writer Alan Sipress says the suicide bombing that took place yesterday outside Tel Aviv, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington, threatens to leave the U.S. administration "struggling to keep up with events." The Bush administration's peace efforts have been "characterized more by improvisation than an overarching strategy," he says. It "has been riven by fundamental philosophical differences, notably between the State Department and Pentagon, over whether to aggressively pursue a negotiated settlement or give Sharon greater latitude to eliminate Palestinian militants. The result is that the administration has been unable to settle on an underlying Middle East policy in which to ground daily diplomacy."

Sipress observes that on one day, Bush demands that Sharon put an immediate end to West Bank military operations. On another day, "after intense lobbying by Jewish groups, evangelical Christians, and neo-conservatives," criticism of Israel is once again tempered. He says administration officials "consistently vilify Yasser Arafat," blaming the Palestinian Authority "for acquiescing in terrorism and succumbing to corruption." But after hearing from Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian, and other governments, U.S. officials insisted Israel must negotiate with him to find a solution to the crisis.

Sipress says the U.S. administration is now "responding to the calamity of the day, the foreign visitor of the hour." Although now convinced of the need for U.S. involvement in the Mideast, he says "senior policymakers have yet to agree what that should be."