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Western Press Review: The Internet's Pitfalls, Polish Euroskepticism, And Bosnia 10 Years Later

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 13 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- News analysis and commentary in the Western press today and over the weekend looks at Germany's labor strike, the pitfalls of the Internet, Afghan repatriation, Washington's unraveling foreign policy, Polish Euroskepticism, the Middle East, and Bosnia's continuing difficulties, 10 years after the war.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger discusses some of the lingering doubts in Poland regarding its eventual accession to the EU. Frankenberger acknowledges that not every sector of the Polish economy will benefit equally from membership. Many are particularly concerned over the EU's initially small agricultural subsidies for new members, as a large percentage of Poland's population are farmers. But Frankenberger says all things considered, Poland's EU membership is a "win-win situation," for both Poland and the union.

"Prime Minister Leszek Miller is right when he says that joining the EU will jump start the country's modernization. Were Poland to decide not to join, it would be condemning itself to a peripheral existence on the social, economic, and technical fringes of Europe. That is the price the country would pay if it heeded the lamentations of those opposed to EU membership. Compared to life on the margins, the costs that come with joining the EU are both justifiable and acceptable."


In a column from "The New York Times" reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," Thomas Friedman suggests the unfettered access to information provided by the Internet can do as much harm as good. He notes that the sheer magnitude of the information available on the World Wide Web allows for the dissemination of much false information -- faster, farther, and wider than ever before.

Friedman says depending on how it is used, the Internet can either educate or misinform people at an unprecedented pace. As an example, he says "the lie that 4,000 Jews were warned not to go into the World Trade Center on 11 September was spread entirely over the Internet and is now thoroughly believed in the Muslim world. Because the Internet has an aura of 'technology' surrounding it, the uneducated believe information from it even more. They don't realize that the Internet, at its ugliest, is just an open sewer: an electronic conduit for untreated, unfiltered information."

Friedman goes on to say: "The world is being wired together technologically, but not socially, politically, or culturally. We are now seeing and hearing one another faster and better, but with no corresponding improvement in our ability to learn from or understand one another." He suggests the false ideas readily accessible via the Internet "can be reversed only with education, exchanges, diplomacy, and human interaction -- stuff you have to upload the old-fashioned way, one on one."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at the current wave of strikes by thousands of German workers, which is spreading from Germany's powerful IG Metall engineering union in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemburg to Berlin.

The commentary notes that the demands for pay increases are higher now than in the days when Germany was experiencing an economic boom. Employers consider the workers' demands to be outrageous, but are receiving no support from the government in their efforts to wait out the strike. The paper says the government is failing the industries, as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is more concerned about public opinion and is playing to the masses ahead of elections. The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" notes that industry has responded by rebuffing Schroeder, but says such a reaction merely indicates that it is losing its focus and not facing the real problem. The "government is not on strike -- the metalworkers are," it points out.


A piece by columnist Jim Hoagland in "The Washington Post" and reprinted in the "International Herald Tribune" says the foreign policy goals of the U.S. administration are becoming confused. He says the "inner clarity and coherence" of the global war on terrorism declared by U.S. President George W. Bush after the attacks of 11 September have been "swamped by events" and dismantled by competing foreign policy priorities.

Over the past two months, Hoagland says, the U.S. has been forced to backtrack on a number of its declarations in response to Israel's military offensive in the West Bank, the ongoing conflict between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, and concerns about stability in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Hoagland says while these are all serious issues, "the president and his aides have allowed foreseeable flare-ups to suck the energy, attention, and determination" out of the commitment to the war on terrorism. Hoagland adds that the administration has gone through "dizzying verbal contortions" on these issues by emphatically saying one thing on one day and another thing the next.

Hoagland remarks that this "confusion over words and motives almost surely reflects an inner confusion" within the administration. But he says now is not the time for the U.S. "to seem confused and wandering in its aims and effectiveness. Bush must re-engage in the war on terrorism with the unmistakable commitment and moral clarity he originally proclaimed."


In a contribution to the "Los Angeles Times," David DeVoss of the East-West News Service says 10 years after the war in Bosnia began, and despite copious amounts of Western aid, the country still suffers profound economic hardship and remains the poorest in Europe. He says nearly all the country's economic activity "comes from foreign aid or employment with international development agencies."

If foreign assistance were excluded, he writes, "Bosnia would have recorded economic growth of minus 2 percent last year." DeVoss notes that in the Repulika Srpska, only one in 25 families lives above the poverty line, and only one family in eight living in the Muslim-Croat Federation earns enough for what he calls "a reasonable standard of living."

DeVoss says that unfortunately, "most of Bosnia's leaders are the same politicians who supported the war and continue to profit from political chaos." The politicians, "backed by criminal gangs, corrupt judges, and lethargic police, have frustrated refugee resettlement, prevented banking reforms and largely halted privatization."

DeVoss goes on to note that the shift in U.S. foreign policy priorities that took place after the 11 September attacks has renewed debate over whether Europe should take on more of the responsibility for stabilizing the region. But he says "a strong argument can be made" for a continued U.S. presence there, for, among other reasons, the region's decade of conflict has produced thousands of Albanian Muslims with "significant military experience."


The regional daily "Eurasia View" carries a piece from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) discussing the issue of Afghan repatriation. With well over half a million Afghan refugees in the process of repatriating from neighboring countries, there is growing concern that aid may soon run out, it says. It notes that the UN High Commission for Refugees announced last week that 500,000 Afghans have already returned from neighboring countries, and 150,000 internally displaced people have returned to their villages.

But while the high number of Afghans seeking to return to their homeland is a vote of confidence in the country's future, the situation may reach a "critical impasse unless further assistance in forthcoming."

Many Afghans are returning with nothing, and need raw materials in order to rebuild their homes. At present, the UNHCR "is funding various projects throughout Afghanistan to provide protection and assist the reintegration of the planned 1.25 million returnees this year, as well as to assist some 3 million Afghans in neighboring states." But at "this critical juncture of Afghanistan's reconstruction process, the question now is whether the necessary funds will be available."


In the French daily "Liberation," Jean-Pierre Perrin discusses the "affront" suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from his own party yesterday, when 59 percent of the Likud Central Committee voted against the idea of an independent Palestinian state -- part of Sharon's plan for peace -- in a resolution supported by former far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Sharon responded by reiterating his intention to continue to guide the country according to the same principles of seeking security and peace for Israelis to which he has always adhered.

Perrin notes that Israel is continuing its military de-escalation in spite of this hard-line political shift, by putting off any action against Gaza in retaliation for last week's suicide-bomb attack near Tel Aviv and demobilizing army reservists. He also remarks that the communique released over the weekend (11 May) by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syria's Bachar el-Assad, and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah is "amazing in its moderation." The three leaders expressed their wish to live in peace with Israel and denounced violence in all its forms.

Perrin says this decline in the region's tensions owes a lot to the United States. Washington has exhorted Israel not to react rashly to the latest bomb attack, "notably warning that an offensive in Gaza would weaken Mohammad Dahlan, chief of preventive security in the territory." Israeli officials have recently suggested Dahlan could be a successor to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Perrin says in light of reducing tensions, the focus is once again on resuming negotiations.


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses the pressures exerted on the parties to the Middle East conflict. It says there have been unintentional consequences for generous gestures. Both the Europeans and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have now landed in a quandary. The EU will lose out if it does not make a speedy decision on how to deal with the 13 Palestinian militants exiled to Europe as part of a deal to end the siege in Bethlehem on the Church of the Nativity.

"As it is, even before the foreign ministers in Brussels are due to discuss the matter, it is clear that they made a rash decision and have since come to their senses. Who wants to give security guarantees for men who, according to the Israelis, are not politically persecuted, but terrorists?"

Sharon, too, is dealing with a dilemma, as he is forced to have second thoughts about sending reservists to the Gaza Strip. For this would be "more of a hindrance than a help," says the paper, since he faces pressures from within Israel and from abroad. An operation in the Gaza Strip could only be successful if the army takes into consideration the civilians in this thickly populated area. But this is practically impossible, the paper says, considering the previous assault on the Jenin refugee camp. The paper says, "An attack would condemn the chances of a peace conference before plans have even been launched."

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