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Western Press Review: Europe's Elections, International Justice And Child Labor In Uzbekistan

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 13 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press analysis today looks at this weekend's elections in the Czech Republic and France, as well as Germany's September elections for chancellor; the deeds and misdeeds of international criminal courts; Russian geostrategic shifts; Afghanistan's Loya Jirga grand-council meeting; and child labor in Uzbekistan.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," editorial-page editor Therese Raphael says that if French President Jacques Chirac's conservative coalition wins this Sunday's parliamentary elections, as expected, "the right will dominate French politics. With this victory, Mr. Chirac will either go down in history as the French politician [who] transformed the country's political landscape and revitalized its economy; or he will come to exemplify the chronic inability of the French political class to initiate deep change."

But Chirac has two advantages going for him, says Raphael. The first is "a public readiness for change. French voters have concluded that Socialist government is leaderless government; and Socialist promises of equality and opportunity are empty."

Second, leaders of change "are in control -- of their party and their parliament." If this weekend's vote turns out in his favor, Raphael says Chirac "will have the run of the French Assembly." But she says, "Whether he can unite the traditionally fractious and corporatist right behind a reform agenda -- especially in the face of labor unrest -- remains to be seen."


An editorial in "The Times" of Britain discusses general elections in the Czech Republic, which are set to begin tomorrow. The paper says that if Vaclav Klaus, leader of the Civic Democrats, wins a majority as "the first openly Euroskeptic politician from a former communist country," he will "throw into turmoil the protracted haggling on the entry of the Czech Republic and nine other applicant states to the European Union."

And if Klaus's Euroskepticism "reverses years of patient diplomacy and storms out of the queue, other frustrated neighbors may follow." The EU enlargement process would thus be left in jeopardy.

The editorial says Klaus's calls for the Czechs to "stand up for their rights" have resonated far beyond the Czech Republic. Poland, Hungary, and other EU applicant countries "are also infuriated by what they understandably see as dithering, hypocrisy, bad faith and fading promises in Brussels. There is a growing feeling that too high a price is being asked for a deal that may not, in the end, deliver either the prosperity or the stability promised."

The paper says the EU's "complacency and the slipping timetable for concluding accession talks this year suggest that unless all applicants show more [mettle], they will neither be able to get a fair deal from Brussels nor an agreement that their disillusioned electorates will accept."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says the United Nations war crimes tribunal at The Hague showed its good side yesterday in upholding the convictions of three Bosnian Serbs who ran an infamous camp in the eastern Bosnian town of Foca. The paper notes that the original trial "established that rape constitutes a war crime." And by holding these "Balkan war criminals to account, justice was done," it writes.

But the paper says that in a ruling on an unrelated case on 10 June, The Hague set a dangerous precedent. Three UN judges "held that a retired American foreign correspondent can be forced to testify, against his will, about what he saw in Bosnia."

The editorial says this UN ruling "puts journalists who cover wars at greater risk," as it compromises their claims of being "disinterested observers" in hot zones. The court's decision also underscores "an inherent problem" with the future International Criminal Court, which goes into effect on 1 July.

"Unchecked by democratic institutions of a sovereign state, these tribunals can be, and often are, forced to make up the rules as they go along." A permanent ICC with a broad mandate could easily threaten the rights and constitutional protections that people in many countries take for granted, says the paper. Such a court is "free of all constraints of the type that courts within a national judicial system must observe."


Germans appear to be truly worried about the future political scene. Although elections for chancellor are not due until 22 September, commentators in the German press appear deeply concerned with future prospects. Volker Zastrow, writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," discusses the alternatives to current Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Zastrow considers various coalition possibilities that would enable Schroeder to survive. "Schroeder can remain chancellor only if, contrary to all his solemn promises, he allows the PDS [Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor to the former East Germany's ruling Communists], to put him there, thus liquidating any last traces of a centrist political program."

Zastrow believes this would be Schroeder's only chance of survival after the elections. "But," he adds," if current polls are to be believed, he will not even receive this opportunity."

It seems Schroeder never enjoyed much confidence, even in his own ranks. Zastrow describes Schroeder as "aesthetically pleasing," but says his style of leadership and government have displayed "striking mistakes and embarrassing errors of judgment. It also has blurred his political profile beyond recognition."

Zastrow says that when the political battles are over, no one is betting on Schroeder to come out on top.


"Jane's Foreign Report" carries an analysis of Russia's attempts to reposition itself in the global pecking order by becoming a major supplier of oil to the West. Russia recently announced that it will restore oil exports to normal levels. In effect, the report says the Kremlin reneged on an informal agreement with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to limit supply in order to keep oil prices high.

But the significance of Russia's move goes much deeper, the report says. "The Russians, with American support, are attempting nothing less than to replace OPEC as the world's major supplier of energy." The result, the report says, will be "a monumental change" in economic relations and "a complete re-evaluation" of oil-price predictions.

The U.S. has long had doubts about the reliability of Saudi Arabia and other Mideastern oil producers in ensuring supplies of oil, the report notes. Increases in non-OPEC production keep oil prices down and "shift the geopolitical balance in favor of the United States. It makes it possible, in theory, for the Americans to contemplate wider action against Iraq, with less fear of an Arab backlash."

Russia, for its part, "wants a bigger share of the world oil market," and better trade relations with the world, "and that means oil," says "Jane's." The report says, "One thing is for sure: in any future crisis -- including the impending U.S. war against Iraq -- the Russians will step in to calm down any oil panic."


In "Eurasia View," free-lance journalist Alima Nurlanbekova discusses the situation of child laborers in Uzbekistan. She says that officially, Uzbek law "sharply discourages child labor." But unofficially, the shortcomings of the Uzbek economy, "still struggling after the country joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism and drew an infusion of American aid," undermine its obligations under international standards. She says laws prohibiting the practice "are laxly enforced, and run counter to traditions."

Child and teenage laborers often forego schooling in order to work, "are paid poorly for their labor, and must give part of their pay to their protectors. Their working day is not standardized, and no one incurs any liability for violating their rights. Nor does anyone stop children from leaving school to become couriers, candy or cigarette vendors [or] general laborers."

Nurlanbekova says, "In a vicious cycle, children are likely to seek more work to pay for their own education as the economy falters." As Uzbekistan "struggles to outgrow its agrarian base and become an industrial economy, [children] are caught in the least desirable jobs."

Many observers believe child-labor reform will not happen anytime soon, Nurlanbekova says. "As long as parents tolerate their children's exploitation, children will remain popular but underpaid sources of labor. And as long as families have to choose between child labor and starvation, children will continue to give up on school to keep their households together."


Hans-Joerg Schmidt, writing in Germany's "Die Welt," discusses the possible outcomes of Czech general elections this weekend in terms of the political vision of dissident playwright-turned-president Vaclav Havel.

According to the Czech Constitution, the president, who has relatively little power with regard to lawmaking, does have considerable influence in appointing a prime minister and forming a government. Since the Czechs do not vote according to a first-past-the-post system, coalitions are inevitable. In practice, the commentary points out, the president need not appoint the electoral victor in forming an administration.

Havel is somewhat at odds with the two chief parties, the Social Democrats, led by Milos Zeman, and the conservatives, headed by Vaclav Klaus. Although Havel vehemently denies being opposed to "the father of the Czech market economy," Klaus's personality is incompatible with Havel's view of society. "The president favors a 'civil society,' which Klaus sees as a limitation on his party's influence and apolitical anarchy,"

Schmidt says even if Klaus wins, Havel will probably call on the Social Democrats to form a government in coalition with the liberals, which would help pave the way for his choice of successor, Senate speaker Petr Pithart. But a presidential candidate needs to be elected by parliament, according to the constitution. However, says Schmidt, if the Social Democrats join the conservatives in a grand coalition, Havel's tactics may fail. In that case, the next president could be Klaus or Havel's enemy No. 2, Zeman.


France's daily "Liberation" discusses the deliberations over choosing a head of state for the next temporary government of Afghanistan, which will rule for two years before elections are held in 2004.

The paper says dissatisfactions are growing regarding the candidacy of current interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, who is backed by the U.S. and considered the favorite to win the top leadership post. The belief is growing that he has already been chosen as the next leader, and that the Loya Jirga process is merely being conducted to obscure the fact that everything has been decided beforehand.

Former King Zahir Shah announced earlier this week that he is not a candidate for head of state and that he endorses Karzai. About 60 supporters of the deposed monarch abruptly left the assembly yesterday, alleging that they were being faced with a political fait accompli.

The absence of any real opposition to Karzai has also concerned outside observers, says "Liberation." "Before the commencement of the Loya Jirga, 13 people had declared themselves candidates, but over the course of the last few days, the withdrawals have multiplied."

The most recent to date was Walli Massoud, brother of the late anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud. Massoud declared yesterday that he would not enter the race, also preferring to lend his support to Karzai.

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