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Western Press Review: Remembering Europe's Past And Russian-Georgian Tensions

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 27 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western media analysis and commentary today discusses 20th-century Europe's remembrance of the communist and Nazi eras, Georgian-Russian tensions over Chechen rebels reportedly hiding in Pankisi Gorge, the Pakistani president's balancing act between democracy and Islam, and rebuilding Afghanistan, among other issues.


In "The Boston Globe," "Reason" magazine contributing editor and columnist Cathy Young discusses 20th-century Europe's experience with communism as well as Nazism, and how both are remembered today in light of a new book by Martin Amis, "Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million." Koba was a nickname for former Russian leader Josef Stalin, believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 20 million people during his regime.

Amis observes that Stalin's massacre is not as familiar as Hitler's, although it killed more people. While Auschwitz and Belsen are well-known, a reference to the labor camps of Vorkuta and Solovetsky draws blank stares. Former Soviet communists might now laughingly dismiss their political pasts, but the same attitude would be "unthinkable" from a former Nazi sympathizer. Young writes, "Soviet terror has not entered general consciousness [the] way the Holocaust has."

But Young says author Amis also concedes that "regardless of overall body counts, Nazism's purposeful, systematic extermination of human beings based solely on their ethnicity was more evil and repugnant than communism's more haphazard slaughter." But she says this moral differential separating the two regimes "does not justify the vast gap in general awareness of their crimes -- or the stark double standard in their public judgment."


A "Los Angeles Times" commentary by Ranan Lurie of the Center for Strategic and International Studies discusses Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's announcement last week (21 August) that he would not step down in October as planned and allow for new elections. Lurie says Musharraf "chose political dishonor rather than risk being swept aside" by Islamic fundamentalist voters in fall elections.

Lurie says Musharraf is facing "the danger of being weakened by the democratic process that the West cherishes." It is a very tough region, in which "you have to be strong to survive as a leader." The potential of assassination is very high, Lurie remarks, "especially in Muslim societies toying with democracy. The masses see equality as a dangerous Western tool because, for starters, it grants women equality with men [and] because Islam simply cannot separate itself from the state; basically it is the state." The choice may be seen by some as being between "the religion of democracy and the religion of Islam."

Lurie says Musharraf is well aware "that being a dictator in a Muslim country is nothing to be ashamed of." Musharraf's problem, writes Lurie, "is the big white brother of the West with the grand democratic ideas who might frown over some of his actions." However, in light of the West's war on terrorism, "white brother needs [Musharraf] much more than he needs white brother."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the conflict between Russia and Georgia over the Pankisi Gorge, where Chechen rebels are reported to have sought refuge. The commentary says any possible Chechen fighters in the Pankisi Gorge are throwing Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze into a dilemma. His small country is threatening action if mighty Russia bombs Georgian territory. On the other hand, the paper writes, Shevardnadze is wise enough to send his troops to Pankisi Gorge to force Chechen rebels back across the border.

For although Georgia is one of America's "favorites" at the moment, the U.S. cannot afford to come out in defense of a country protecting rebels or terrorists. Hence Georgia, although militarily weak, is trying to establish law in this "lawless" part of Georgian territory. Although this move could lead to an easing of tensions, it will not satisfy Moscow, which demands the deactivation of the rebels. Shevardnadze is in a quandary, the paper says, for if Georgia is not serious in its actions against the rebels, then Russia will not be satisfied. But if Shevardnadze is earnest in his military endeavors, then the war could overwhelm unstable Georgia, the commentary concludes.


"The Washington Times" discusses Turkey's bid to join the European Union and the potential impact of elections scheduled for 3 November. The paper says this vote "will shift the country's center of gravity closer to either the West or Middle East. While secular, progressive parties would accelerate the momentum for Turkey's entry into the European Union, a triumph of the Islamic-leaning party could dampen Europe's already tepid enthusiasm for the country's membership."

But Turkey's Islamic party "is much more moderate than most Islamic parties around the world, and supports Turkey's EU membership," the paper notes. However, it might not be "as supportive of the economic and political reforms that Europe demands" as prerequisites for membership. And since many EU nations "see no urgency to Turkey's entry, a triumph of this party would seriously slow Turkey's ascension."

This, says the paper, "would be an opportunity squandered -- for Turkey, for Europe and America, too. Turkey's entry into the EU would give Westernized, progressive, free-market policies a foothold in the Middle East." "The Washington Times" urges the West to set a date for beginning formal accession talks between Turkish and EU leaders.


"The New York Times" says a country "that has suffered as long and as cruelly as Afghanistan needs sustained international help to restore the rudiments of normal life." Unless long-term reconstruction assistance is provided, the paper says "anarchy could return."

"The New York Times" notes that much of the $4.5 billion promised in international aid last January has yet to materialize, and most of that received went to emergency humanitarian aid. "What is needed now is aid directed at reviving agriculture and trade," the editorial writes. The war against the 1979 Soviet invasion "destroyed many of the irrigation canals that made agriculture possible in the parched countryside.... [Reclaiming] that abandoned agricultural land would make Afghanistan less dependent on food relief shipments and would allow hundreds of thousands of returning refugees to resettle in the rural areas they left. Without such reclamation, many will drift back to cities where no work awaits them."

As the security situation is still tenuous in many rural areas, foreign donors are hesitant to undertake road-building and land-reclamation projects. "But rebuilding roads and providing rural jobs will go far toward making the countryside more secure," says the paper.


One in five Germans reportedly watched the political debate between Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and challenger Edmund Stoiber on television last week (25 August), ahead of elections scheduled for 22 September. Ulrich Clauss in "Die Welt" discusses this first live televised debate between the two candidates, and asks what made this debate so impressive.

The campaigners, he says, harnessed the system. But it almost seems like an act of revenge for the years of political advertising on TV. This time, he says, the politicians were at the mercy of the television, and he remarks that this debate was intimidating for both participants and spectators alike.


Christoph Schwennicke in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" remarks that the televised duel was perhaps a success in that it was a failure: "There may be a chance for the rebirth of primary politics from the disappointing outcome of secondary politics." He says "Every good parliamentary debate, every exchange in the Bundestag [parliament] is more exiting, entertaining and informative" than Schroeder and Stoiber's 75 minutes debating on TV. Schwennicke says, "That, at least, was worth realizing."


In a contribution to France's "Le Figaro" daily, social science and economy professor Herschel Grossman of Brown University discusses the idea of a two-state solution for the Mideast. "Many Palestinian Arabs, and much of the Arab world, continue to think that they can do better than a two-state solution. After decades of conflict, it seems that the Arabs have not given up their goal of making all of Palestine into an Arab state."

In the meantime, U.S. and European governments seem willing to use promises of economic aid to urge Arab governments into peaceful coexistence, "in the way that the United States pays off Egypt and Jordan to acquiesce in the existence of Israel." But he says unless Arabs "reconcile themselves to the permanent reality of a Jewish state in Palestine, the creation of a Palestinian Arab state will not provide more than the temporary palliative of a tenuous truce between Arabs and Jews."

"Unfortunately," says Grossman, Israel can only show that it will not be destroyed "by enduring the violent war of attrition that the Arabs are pursuing." Moreover, he says, "there seems no obvious way to speed up the process of convincing the Arabs that Israel is here to stay except by making this war of attrition as costly as possible for them."


In "The New York Times," Nicholas Kristof says the real issue is not whether the United States wants to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but what price it would have to pay to accomplish this, in terms of both money and human lives. The American public, he notes, generally favors military intervention in Iraq, by 57 percent to 36 percent against. But when polls ask whether respondents would support an invasion even if heavy American casualties were involved, the balance shifts, and 51 percent oppose an invasion, while 41 percent remain in favor.

Kristof calls this "a practical approach," and goes on to enumerate issues that must be addressed as part of a well-considered decision. Could Saddam Hussein be overthrown "quickly, and at a reasonable cost in lives?" he asks. "Will an invasion trigger chemical attacks instead of preventing them?" Is there a viable plan for a follow-up regime in the country? Would an operation in Iraq undermine the war on terrorism? And finally, is such a project worth the estimated $55 billion? "That's more than the [U.S.] government spends in a year on elementary and secondary education and health research combined," he notes.

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